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How we feel – Giovanni Frazzetto ****

The format in this book is that we look at one emotion (anger, anxiety, love and others) per chapter, and for each one author Giovanni Frazzetto relates a (sometimes quite personal) story from his own life where he experienced the emotion. He then goes on to tell us how much me know about what’s going on inside our brains when we experience each emotion, and why each emotion has evolved.
The limits to our understanding of emotions are nurmerous. Sometimes the problem is that any study of emotions carried out in a lab will inevitably lack realism; sometimes our understanding of a particular emotion is based only on aggregate data collected from a large number of brain scans, never the same as any one individual’s experience; sometimes we’re unable to determine how much genetics accounts for the existence and expression of emotions, as against social factors or an individual’s personal history.
I enjoyed the book a great deal, mostly due to the fact that I finished feeling that I had learned a lot effortlessly – what’s great is that the science Giovanni Frazzetto discusses is in amongst engaging stories from his own life, and his expressive style of writing is very enjoyable to read.
What I also liked was the regular emphasis on the fact that, when it comes to understanding emotions and ourselves, we shouldn’t look to science as self help, and we shouldn’t expect science to be able to change how we feel. Reflection, poetry, and trial and error as we go through life dealing with emotions are much better here, the author says. Reading the book, it always felt like the author was speaking of the science in its proper place. For this, and the other reasons given above, I’d certainly recommend this title.
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Review by Matt Chorley

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