Saturday, September 19, 2009

Top Ten Fictional Eggheads

"10 of Fiction's Biggest Brains"
Culture, (September 15, 2009)

"In the real world, big-brained people can do good (Einstein) or bad (Madoff).

"In fiction, you can toss limits out the window and give characters as big a brain as you wish. For some that means outsized, visible noggins that, well, stretch the imagination. More down-to-Earth characters, like...."

First of all, Einstein didn't have a particularly large brain. His weighed 1230 grams: that's around the low end of the average range for modern humans. On the other hand, Einstein's bran did have "some very interesting and unusual features in both its parietal cortex and motor cortex." (Balter's Blog, FSU Anthropology)

If the authors meant "big brained" in terms of being smart, of course, Einstein was well off the 50th percentile in the other direction.

That introduction leads you to a countdown list of 10 fictional geniuses. Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, and Batman, make the list, as well as a sort of favorite of mine:


"Doc Savage

"The Man of Bronze could do just about anything. He's a surgeon, he's a physicist, he's an inventor, and he's a likely a picker, grinner, lover and sinner.

"Though modern audiences don't know Doc as well, he starred in 181 novels and has been adapted into other media...."

I've read two of the Doc Savage novels - which hardly makes me an expert. I enjoyed them, and will probably re-read them at some point. The writing was hardly literary, the stories improbable at best, and Doc "Man of Bronze" Savage was about as believable as the Batman.

I think that part of the reason the books aren't all that popular these days isn't so much the, ah, plebean style of the author's prose. The novels were written in the 1930s and 40s, if memory serves, and reflect the culture and ideas of the day.

More to the point, they were written before Dachau, Auschwitz, and icepick lobotomies changed America's perception of eugenics and psychosurgery.

I try to cut authors a little slack, taking into account the cultural milieu they wrote for. Those old Doc Savage books - the ones I read, anyway, were good old-fashioned blood and thunder tales of derring do, centered around an unlikely team of barely-plausible heroes. And - this is the point - well-intentioned entertainment.

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