The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head
by Raymond Tallis
(Yale, $28)

There’s an awful lot going on in your head, says physician and poet Raymond Tallis. A liter of saliva accumulates in your mouth every day without your notice. Mucus forms in the nasal passages and waxy cerumen in the ears. You yawn and blink involuntarily. You blush when you least want to signal embarrassment. Of course, the head is also the place we do our thinking, the “capital” of our “first-person world.” But it’s hard to imagine exactly how our electrical impulses come to be experienced as thought. “Earwax is in my head,” Tallis muses. “But are my thoughts in my head?”

Tallis’ playful new book is on one level “a wonderful treasury of stupefying facts,” said Michael Simkins in the London Mail on Sunday. He aims first and foremost to make his readers “astonished tourists of the piece of the world that is closest to them,” and he succeeds in illuminating what’s extraordinary about such everyday acts as speaking, sneezing, spitting, breathing, sweating, laughing, and smiling. But his larger objective is to examine where the self resides, said Andrew Robinson in New Scientist. Tallis is “exasperated by brain worship”—the faddish use of neuroscience to explain all facets of human experience. “Selves require bodies as well as brains, material environments as well as bodies, and societies as well as material environments,” he tells us. And the body has agendas over which the brain has no control.

The Kingdom of Infinite Space will “make you see yourself not just in a new light but from a dozen new angles,” said Adam Begley in The New York Observer. It’s merely a bonus that Tallis’ writing is “witty and densely allusive,” and reading it is an “aesthetically pleasing experience in itself.” Sometimes he’s “a bit too pleased with himself,” said Jane O’Grady in the London Guardian. But Tallis’ exuberance proves contagious when he’s stalking the thin line between the external world and inner experience, and he reminds us throughout of the glory of being human.