"You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive" is the observation that launched a thousand films, sequels, and imitators. The first words (after "How are you?") that Holmes says upon meeting Watson in A Study in Scarlet have become the template for all that follows: A display of extraordinary, apparently superhuman deduction, seemingly arbitrary but, upon closer inspection, the result of the methodical assemblage of a handful of details. Other men see; Holmes observes. And who among his fans has not, even briefly, imagined that we, too, might observe as Holmes does?
Maria Konnikova takes this impulse and gives us hope in her first book, Mastermind: How to Think like Sherlock Holmes, although the book might be more accurately titled How Sherlock Holmes Thinks like Sherlock Holmes. Readers looking for a prescriptive program to turn them into Holmesian cogitation machines may come away disappointed. But those seeking to understand the neurological and psychological underpinnings of the great detective's mind will find a knowledgeable guide in Konnikova.