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Friday, August 31st, 2007

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1:19p
An odd one ...
Every now and again I run across a book that makes me wonder just how it managed to find its way into print, and this was an example of that type. In many ways, this seems to be the author wanting to show off his hobby of making funny drawings ... but how does one convince a major publisher to come out with a large-format hardcover based on that desire? I suppose to have the author/artist being (to quote from the dust jacket) "one of the twentieth century's great psychologists of perception and cognition" who holds a chair at Stanford and has a long list of technical publications would help a lot at getting a "vanity" book out, but the suspicion that this is a "vanity" project hovers heavily over Roger N. Shepard's Mind Sights: Original Visual Illusions, Ambiguities, and Other Anomalies, With a Commentary on the Play of Mind in Perception and Art.

There is certainly enough content here to justify a book on the subject, but the fact that the examples always come back to the author's own sketches (when other examples from art and advertising might have better illustrated the points being made) drags the book away from achieving its goals. Of course, this is also described (again from the dust jacket) as "part autobiography, part artists' portfolio", so I guess the "see how clever I am" (also carried into the text, with stories of "pranks" by the author, such as arranging for his daughter to publish a paper on a subject that he had previously published, partnered with a researcher having the same last name as his co-publisher, so that there would be two papers on the same subject by the same last-name researchers, just a few decades apart ... ensuring, no doubt, that hilarity would ensue) theme is actually more the point than the putative subject itself.

Mind Sights is in three sections, the first discussing "visual tricks" in general, and the author's life story, a section devoted to reproducing various drawings, broken into thematic groups, and, finally, an analysis of what is going on psychologically in the perception of the "tricks" involved. Needless to say, this last bit is the "meat" of the book but one needs to plow through a whole lot of Jack Horner-esqe "what a good smart boy am I!" posturing to get there.

Now, this is one of those books that has been languishing in my to-be-read boxes for a long time (selected to be easy to finish up on my recent road trip), and is currently out-of-print, so were you dying to find out what a bright and creative fellow Mr. Shepard is, you'll have to make some extra effort than dropping by your local bookstore. New/used copies are available, but not for particularly cheap, the lowest is currently $2.78 (plus shipping, of course) for a "good" copy of the paperback edition, but you can have a "like new" copy of the hardcover for only $7.99 which, considering this came out at $24.95 in 1990, isn't a bad deal ... were you interested in this, that is.

Oh, and for those of you keeping track of my "review backlog", this is the last of the books finished up on the road trip, and I got done with this one in the five hour delay we endured sitting on some distant patch of tarmac at the Indianapolis airport waiting to find some way to return to (tornado-harried) Chicago last Thursday (8/23).


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