A few rides on M3, a feeble flirtation with insomnia, and the range of books one can read recedes; but they get finished somehow. So with the previously here mentioned The Essential Difference by Simon Baron-Cohen. I thought I should add a few words, though my impression that this book is shaky even for a popularization/public transportation volume stands. I may be biased about the target audience. But when at the beginning of chapter 9 SBC says that the previous chapter was ‘quite an uphill climb’ one feels it must be a joke. No. 8 is a chapter meant to support the thesis that women tend to have E-brains (empathy) and men S-brains (systemizing) with biological data. It’s all very basic, so SBC should not give his reader credit for nothing. Never mind.
Chapters 9, 10 and 11, and especially the 4 appendixes save the book. In this order: the first makes the point that males and females occupied vastly different niches in hominid evolution so one should expect adaptations for their particular demands, including neural adaptations. The second contains the central proposal of the book, namely that autism usually develops in persons who have an extreme version of the S- or male brain. SBC notes that on the recent understanding of autism spectrum disorders, they aren’t that rare, and they don’t go that often with retardation. From an incidence of 4/10000 in the 1970s, change and relaxation in diagnosis led to a figure of about 1/200 in the 1990s. Some of this people are intellectually remarkable, with all their social inabilities (one looks around the metro car or on the walls of the room at 5 AM and goes ‘check, check’). Chapter 11 makes this idea vivid by telling the story of Richard Borcherds, a laureate of the Fields Medal. Finally, the appendixes – full scale tests, four of them: mind-in-the-eyes, empathy, systemizing and autism spectrum quotients. It’s nice to see the apparatus actually used in many labs. By their tools thou shalt know them.
A double shot of irony wouldn’t hurt such books. See e.g. what JD does to Rowlands here.