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Mindblindness: Essay on Autism and the Theory of Mind (Bradford Books)
Mindblindness: Essay on Autism and the Theory of Mind (Bradford Books)
by Simon Baron-cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent synopsis of Theory of Mind research in Autism, 5 July 2002
This book succincntly presents the Theory of Mind (ToM) explanation of autism, i.e. autistic people do not have a theory of mind hence they can't attribute emotions, intentions and beliefs to others. Having a 'theory of mind' largely reduces to a capacity to take another peron's perspective. While the authors are clinical psychologists, this ToM account of the underlying deficit that is autism, raises many provocative philosophical implications about self consciousness and consciousness of others, and pragmatics. Another text by Baron-Cohen and Howlin Teaching Children with Autism to Mind Read operationalises the central ideas in a ToM teaching programme and is worth exploring as a follow on text.
Obviously the primary audience for this book are those working in the field of autism research. However, if you have any interest in cognition and self consciousness whatsoever, whether philosophically or psychologically, don't pass over this book.


A Real Person: Life on the Outside
A Real Person: Life on the Outside
by Gunilla Gerland
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative account of a difficult childhood, 30 Jun 2002
Gerland is classfied as having Asperger Syndrome, but given her background one could assume that she also has a bundle of atypical features. The book describes an extremely abusive and violent childhood within an astonishingly dysfunctional family. Gerland descibes her journey through this period of her life with a 'matter of fact' style. What I found most interesting about the book, was the way in which delinquency (or at least hanging out with delinquents) helped her come to terms with Asperger Syndrome. Among the drug addicts and petty criminals she was accepted as just another member of the gang. Here in the midst of this dysfuntional subculture her life acquired a certain meaning and worth. Gerland uses quite striking metaphors to capture her state and perceptions. One wonders if some therapeutic lessons can be drawn from her experiences. However despite the interesting and poignant vignettes, the book could have been more sharply edited for the ear of an English speaker (Gerland is Scandinavian).


Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not particularly psychologically or politically insightful, 29 Jun 2002
Beevor doesn't quite keep the book as intact as Stalingrad. Throughout Berlin the Russians are depicted as either automata issuing from Stalin or else beasts driven only by blood and rape lust. Apart from the machinations of a deranged Nazi leadership, the story itself is a bit of a nonstory. Beevor makes the catastrophic narrative error of detailing the sacking of each of the major towns in the West, with the result that what happens in Berlin is both predictable and not particularly insightful. Most of the moral outrage has been spent earlier.
Beevor never gets to grip with the psyche of 'Ivan' in Berlin, and I suspect it is because of an expectation that readers have read Stalingrad. The life expectancy of Russian soldiers was several orders of magnitude lower than any other combat unit in the WWII. This may explain their 'grasp the day' attitude to looting and pillaging. However, I also suspect that Beevor's fixation on the prevalence of rape by the Russians may have much to do with cultural myths about the behaviour of the Western Allies - perfect gentlemen. This does not invaliadate his central point that violence agaisnt civilians is not acceptable -but in war moral arbitration is often driven by expediency.
Perhaps the most striking cameos in the book involve leading figures in the Nazi regime. It is difficult at this remove to imagine what bound so many people to their criminal fantasies. Beevor doesn't dwell on this issue but provides striking examples of slavish fawning on Hitler by all in sundry. Of all the comments this story has about war, death and injustice, the one that I took most to heart was Beevor's observation that the German military hierarchy did not regret invading Russia and murdering millions of people. Rather, they regretted losing the war to the Russians. In other words, the Germans had no remorse for their actions. In fact right up until Hitler's death 'political' prisoners were being murdered by the regime.
All in all a fascinating story, but I askmyself whether Beevor has captured too little of the politics in exchange for too much local atrocity.


Autism and ICT: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
Autism and ICT: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
by Colin Hardy
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good synopsis of trends and materials, 6 May 2002
This book is about using special needs to ameliorate autistic traits. It has a lot of very useful material and pointers to many products available. Most of the first half of the book deals with definitons of autism and a brief review of several research strands. The second half deal with software and fitting needs to the UK's National Curriculum.
Perhaps the most valuable, and chastening, components are the vignettes of parents' and children's experiences with special needs software. The moral of these stories is: avoid high expectations. Improvements are not guaranteed.
The meterial is presented well - a hallmark of all Fulton books it seems. Call out boxes are used to emphasise points or relate a vignette. There are a good number of diagrams and pictures. However, I remain to be convinced that most readers will grasp the 'star graphs'. These are introduced as representations of five measures of relatedness to the computer. All very interesting, but the individual graphs use a very small font in the main - too small. It may be hard for parents to see a role for them outside of a research context.
One slight irritant is that a figure number in the text occasionally references a figure that is a page or two further on. Presumably this is because the inserts are too large to accommodate at a more convenient point.
While special needs software claims to be step away from a 'one size fits all' pedagogy, there isn't any developed discussion of specifications for such systems in the text. Understandably the text bocues on available proprietary systems. It is a limitation and one that most parents will ignore - initially at any rate.
Another issue to ponder is whether improvements in behaviour and communication skills arise from use of the computer as a meduium, or simply coincide developmentally with its use? Again readers would have benefited if this point had been developed.
However, these quibbles must be set in the context of an otherwise thorough and practical book. The accounts of individual experiences are really worthwhile studying.


The Theory and Practice of Discourse Parsing and Summarization (Bradford Books)
The Theory and Practice of Discourse Parsing and Summarization (Bradford Books)
by Daniel Marcu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £29.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive and provocative. Worthwhile mental investment., 5 May 2002
This is a text about a computational interpretation of Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) as applied to text summarisation. Marcu cites an impressive array of experiments that he (and others) performed in testing his implementation of RST. The empirical basis of much of his work is quite impressive.
He provides a bundle of algorithms which strengthen the text enormously. The difficulty with the text is not so much the presentation, whihc is clear, as the underlying philosophical assumption that one can do nonsemantically directed parsing of texts. The issue goes far beyond this text however.
Like a number of other discourse theories, RST has been criticised for providing form rather than content. Marcu shows that in certain cases the form of a text is a reasonable guide to its point or purpose. Not everyone, I suspect, will accept his starting point - just as there is little agrement on the categorisation of discourse moves. However, by bringing together his work so systematically, Marcu has done a great service to the debate over discourse and text dynamics.
Moreover, Marcu is focused on RST as a handle on texts rather than conversations. This restriction makes the work all the more significant - and provides lots of food for thought. Definitely a buy, even if you disagree with the fundamental operational definitions.


Uncommon Understanding: Development and Disorders of Language Comprehension in Children
Uncommon Understanding: Development and Disorders of Language Comprehension in Children
by Dorothy V.M. Bishop
Edition: Paperback
Price: £29.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding range and depth., 27 April 2002
This book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in linguistics, computational linguistics, psycholinguistics and philosophy of language as they could be applied to understanding language pathologies, e.g. in autistic children.
It provides a substantial antidote of practial psycholinguistic experience to the usual circuituous reasoning of these other fields. While the author's main focus is on language impairment, it is the background knowledge that is simply shackled to the task that is most striking.
No single theory is examined at length, be it phonology, morphology or grammar, but sufficent bits and pieces are available to make the book more than just a interesting blend of ideas. It is difficult to introduce a range of differing, and often conflicting models, without reducing a text to the academic equivalent of a dog's dinner. The author, to her credit, admirably and illuminatingly avoids this pitfall.
The primary audiences for the book are psychologists and speech and language therapists, but many other research groups would benefit from studying her work and by paying attention to her 'feet on the ground' accounts of language usage and problems.
I was aware that the author has a long standing interest in autism before buying the book, and it was useful to have her thoughts on autistic communication problems collected here.
Taken as a whole, the book is excellent value. Possibly not sufficiently replete with hard core formalism to charm every linguist, but very useful to anyone interested in the psychological reality of language usage and dysfunction.


Voice Application Development with VoiceXML (Sams white book)
Voice Application Development with VoiceXML (Sams white book)
by Rick Beasley
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of existing technology, 27 April 2002
This is good overview of existing technology - and I emphasize 'technology'. If you use Voice Genie then you'll really get something out of this text. I bought it to learn about VoiceXML, and despite the sublimal marketing of particular services, the book is comprehensive. My two main criticisms are: one of the main examples (the ubiquitous 'bookstore') is pretty mundane, and done to death in so many other paradigms.
Leaving that aside, perhaps the most irritating shortcoming is the absence of a CD with code and references. Not a sensible ploy in this age and hard to justify given the price of the text.


The Discourse Reader
The Discourse Reader
by Adam Jaworski
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusally good anthology given its range., 15 April 2002
This review is from: The Discourse Reader (Paperback)
A very interesting anthology of different schools of thought on how to define and dissect discourse. Thre is a good balance between the philosophy, methodology and analyses themes which span 34 chapters. Perhaps the loosest section is that entitled 'Power, ideology and Control' where there is an eclectic mix of views.
My two major criticisms of the text are that, given its size (600 pages), one could reasonably expect more 'how to do it' chapters. They are not there in sufficient numbers.
Secondly, while Schegloff and Schriffin are represented. Mann and Thompson are not. In fact Rhetorical Structure Theory doesn't feature at all.
This is a serious weakness and while it should merit the loss of a 'star', the introduction by Jaworksi and Coupland is superbly compensatory. Even if one were to read only one third of the pieces, the book would be worth it for the Introduction alone.
A very good graduate resource text. Certainly one to have on the shelves.


Cognitive Neuroscience Vision (Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience)
Cognitive Neuroscience Vision (Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience)
by Martha J. Farah
Edition: Paperback
Price: £37.50

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not an engaging read. Uneven in style and content, 15 April 2002
There is a lot of content in this book - largely struggling to get out. When I first glanced at the table of contents, I was very satisfied at the promise held out. However, the author's style is very uneven - lack of balance between detail and overview. I wasn't sure just what audience it was written for.
The author admits that she found writing the first few chapters of the book very challenging. Unfortunately it shows. One can read the whole first chapter on the physiology of the eye without getting even the faintest idea about how the eye focuses. A simple high level function is lost amidst a morass of detail. This regrettably is a telling flaw in the text. Failure to provide an adequate, and dare I say intelligible, context in the opening chapters will definitely lose readers who have neglected to buy the Handbook of Opthamology. It is a pity that these sections weren't jointly authored with a clinical opthamlogist.
Progress through the book hinges around progressing along the optic nerve. There is some very interesting research reported - much of it seminal (experiments on agnosia for instance)- but
it could all have been written much more clearly. I personally experienced the tension of someone who couldn't put the text down, because I'd bought it, and simultaneously couldn't wait to finish it, to get it out of my hair.
It is clear that the author has put a huge amount of effort into trying to create a foundational text. It is a worthy ambition, but one not achieved here.
In conclusion, as an introduction to the area, the book falls far short. As a text for someone with the knowledge, it is probably too uneven to be appealing.


Gaudí
Gaudí
by Gijs Van Hensbergen
Edition: Hardcover

43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly compromised by mediochre images, 4 Aug 2001
This review is from: Gaudí (Hardcover)
The one quality expected of a book on the life of any influential architect is a collection of useful and illuminating images of their work. This book is sadly deficient in this area with too few images of Gaudi's achievements and too many black and white photos among them. Having spent time in Barcelona, I was dismayed by this oversight as Gaudi truly was an architect of texture and form. Voluminous illustrations are absolutely required. Presumably the decision to limit photographic images was based on cost rather than aesthetic criteria. That being noted it is a fine scholarly work and delves into the myriad contractory paths pursued by Gaudi on his way to devout asetic Catholicism. Read this book in conjunction with the Taschen edition on Gaudi to get a rounded grasp of the man, his life and his work.
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