Monday, April 25, 2016

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony - Lewis Thomas

I've been trying to purge my book collection of those I don't absolutely love.  I either need to read them again and discard or trade or give them away.  This book of essays was from the collection of my friend Teddi,  It was written in the 70's and 80's when the threat of nuclear weaponry was a major fear.  Lewis Thomas was a "poet-philosopher of medicine" who commented on world issues from a medical perspective.

I'd read another of his well-known books, The Lives of a Cell some time back.  He was an early medical professional who wrote to explain complex topics, similar to some of my other favorite medical writers like Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande.

He is often quoted and I can understand why when I ran across these clips:

"...the only question I am inclined to turn aside as being impossible to respond to happens to be the one most often raised these days...the question about stress, how to avoid stress, prevent stress, allay stress.  I refuse to have anything to do with this matter, having made up my mind, from everything I have read or heard about it in recent years, that what people mean by stress is simply the condition of being human, and I will not recommend any meddling with that, by medicine or any other profession."
"there can be no promise that we will ever emerge from the great depths of the mystery of being".
[On why humans have such a long period of life before adulthood] "Language is what childhood is for."
[On the uniqueness of our existence in the universe] "We [humans] can go four ways at once, depending on how the air feels: go, no-go, but also maybe, plus what the hell let's give it a try." 
He also discussed in one essay a book about the memories of the survivors of Hiroshima titled Unforgettable Fire.  I'll have to check that one out.

The title of the book is from one of his essays of the same title, where he muses on the end of life.  I found a recording on YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and listened to it while writing this review.  I like it when a book takes me beyond its covers.

Published: 1980  Read: April 2016  Genre: Essay

ISBN 0 670 70390 7

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