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The Book Wrangler

April 18, 2005

By Bob Patterson


The high school science geeks who have always wished for an eloquent spokesperson who could describe a road saga for those prone more toward genius than beatnik greatness have had their wishes answered. 


Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein’s Brain, by Michael Paterniti, does for the students who compete in the science fair what Kerouac’s On The Road did for the rebels with duck-tail haircuts. 


A while back, Michael Paterniti, a respected magazine editor, got the opportunity to take Dr. Thomas Stolz Harvey, and his prize possession, Albert Einstein’s brain, across the USA, in a rented Buick Skylark. 


Along the way, Paterniti mixes in poetic descriptions of the geography, musings about the meaning of life, biographical details of Einstein’s life, the back story about how Dr. Harvey came to posses the prize trophy, and the vagaries of life on the road.  It is the quest of the man who did the autopsy as he and Paterniti take the famous brain to one of Einstein’s relatives in California.


In Hollywood, there is a bit of conventional wisdom that holds that there are only two kinds of movies:  A.) a stranger comes to town, or B.) a man goes on a journey. 


Director Alfred Hitchcock famously dubbed the fabulously valuable/desirable object that causes an “Oklahoma land rush” style reaction for possession as “The McGuffin.”  As the narrative of the book proceeds, the reader learns about more and more groups or individuals who claim/want possession of the scientific anomaly of anatomy. 


Over the years, there has been a scramble to take possession of the prized bit of preserved bit of science history, and one wonders what a vivid imagination, such as script writer Charlie Kaufman has, would add to the already convoluted efforts to gain possession of history stored in formaldehyde.  Odds are, Kaufman would come up with a narrative that might resemble what you’d get by mixing a Nobel Prize winning brain into the plot of the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”


Odds are many of my friends and relatives would enjoy reading this book, but they aren’t going to go to borrow the copy I have.  They will have to go to their library or buy it for themselves because the hardback edition I own will proudly be installed on my shelf of favorite reads between my dog-eared paperback editions of On the Road and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


This book in the picaresque genre was published a few years back; some other newer books which have aroused our interest include:


Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All by Tom Fenton ($25.95 Regan Books) - Fenton has  worked 34 years for CBS; doesn’t that make him the modern Morrow?


On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt ($9.95 hardback Princeton University Press) - This book promotes the proposition that: “Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."


Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II (Modern War Studies (Paperback)) by James Tobin ($15.25 paperback University of Kansas) - He won a Pulitzer prize and was the inspiration for National Columnists Day (April 18) for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House by Ken Goffman and Dan Joy ($25.95 Villard) - You mean it didn’t start with James Dean, Marlin Brando, and Jack Kerouac?


Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter ($14.95 paperback HarperBusiness) - Didn’t Albert Camus say that society handles a rebel by lionizing him and making him an integral part of “the system?”  Sounds logical for the same process to be used to tame the underlying philosophy also.


Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendle  ($25 Harcourt) - So, Albert Einstein wasn’t the only cool scientist?


Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter with an introduction by Robert Anton Wilson ($16.95 paperback Feral House) - Jack Parson was one of the cofounders of Jet Propulsion Lab.  It looks like this could be the start of the Geek-chic era.


Astro Turf: The Private Life Of Rocket Science by M. G. Lord ($24 Walker & Company) - Startin’ a trend over here, boss.


Sorry, Everybody: An Apology to the World for the Re-Election of George W. Bush by James Zetlen and Ted Rall  ($14.95 paperback Hylas Publishing)  This book would probably make certain conservative talk show hosts barf, if they find it under their Christmas tree.


“If a person falls freely, he won’t feel his own weight.” - Albert Einstein.  Did he say anything about fallen women?


Now, if the disk jockey will play “He Ain’t Heavy” we will trudge on out of here for this week.  Come back again next week and we will try to crash close a column that includes some coverage of this year’s Festival of Books, which will be held on the UCLA campus April 23 and 24.  Until then, have a great week, but remember our theory: “It’s all relative.”



Copyright İ 2005 – Robert Patterson



Einstein’s brick, not Einstein’s brain…

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It sits right under the Princeton tiger…

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Copyright İ 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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