Everyone’s favorite dinner table companion might be New York Times best-selling author, actor and director Alan Alda. Best known for playing Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H,” Alda continues to re-create himself with the publication of “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.”

Some may not know that Alda is an active member of the science community, having hosted the TV series “Scientific American Frontiers” and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

Alda will talk about the book and science communication at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in a Page From the Book Festival event.

Jaffe: You’ve been to Atlanta many times. What vibe do you get from our city?

Alda: I get the elegance vibe.

Jaffe: Your communication theory combines empathy and science — or is it more acting and science?

Alda: It’s more the science of empathy, which I first learned about from acting.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?
By Alan Alda
Random House, 240 pages, $28

Jaffe: In today’s contentious political climate, how can we use your research to have better dialogue with those who have disparate views?

Alda: As more than one expert in diplomacy has said, you can’t practice diplomacy without being able to see things from the other’s perspective. That’s empathy, and without it, it’s very hard to communicate. The other person becomes wrong, no matter what they say.

Jaffe: Describe the “mirror exercise” and what we can glean from it.

Alda: Two people face each other, and one becomes the mirror of the other. The mirror partner makes the exact same motions at the exact same moment as the person facing the mirror. One inescapable lesson is that you have responsibility for the person you’re leading. The communicator has to keep the other person in mind, or it’s not going to be real communication. This sounds obvious, but it’s often forgotten.

Jaffe: You’re appearing as part of the Jewish Book Festival. Is there anything of a Jewish or spiritual nature that we can take away from the book?

Alda: There’s an old and admirable tradition of taking in the stranger. It’s a remarkable experience, through good communication, to take in the stranger who is sometimes the person closest to you.

Jaffe: My internist recently got a portable rolling computer that she types into during the exam, resulting in reduced eye contact. What is your advice to the medical community in terms of communication?

Alda: “Please turn around, look up and face me. I’m not just a bag of symptoms.”

Jaffe: What’s the one movie role challenge that would be on your bucket list to play?

Alda: I don’t have a bucket list. What do you do when you get to the end of your list? Fade out? I’d rather let life surprise me. It usually does anyway.

Jaffe: Last word: Complete the sentence. A rabbi, priest and minister walk into a bar …

Alda: The bartender says, “What is this, a joke?”


Who: Alan Alda

What: Page From the Book Festival discussion with Holly Firfer

Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27

Tickets: $33 for JCC members, $37 for others (includes a signed copy of the book); www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or 678-812-4005