Thursday, April 01, 1999

The Great Brain Books

By: Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives

Here is a selection of the great brain books for lay readers. The recommendations of three dozen of the nation’s leading neuroscientists, reviewed here by the editors of Cerebrum, cover everything from emotions and cognition to diseases and disorders. These take their place among historical classics, personal memoirs, and perspectives from other fields.

The most frequently cited “brain statistic” is not the number of patients on antidepressants or the percentage of our genes devoted to shaping our brains. It is probably the estimate that our knowledge of the brain has doubled over the past decade. 

Scientists first responded to this flood of information by writing general books about the brain for lay readers (a category that includes scientists reading outside their research specialties). More recently, books about specific aspects of the brain and brain research, also for the lay reader, have begun to appear. Why?  As research accumulates, new areas of brain research reach the critical mass of information required to deal with questions of interest to such readers. This seems to be happening in research on emotion and the brain, for example, where Joseph LeDoux’s The Emotional Brain and Antonio R. Damasio’s Descartes’ Error are examples. (In contrast, outstanding books about vision and the brain began appearing well over a decade ago, after some 30 years of intensive research in that area.) 

Whatever else may have doubled in this decade, coverage of brain research by the media certainly has. This has nurtured an informed, curious audience for more information and ideas.

Whatever else may have doubled in this decade, coverage of brain research by the media certainly has. This has nurtured an informed, curious audience for more information and ideas. As a result, publishers are bringing out more brain books than ever before. 

Where should the reader begin? What are the great books, past and present, that capture the unfolding story of the brain and how brain research is changing our ideas about memory and emotion, life span and language, neurological disorders and psychiatric syndromes? 

THE SURVEY

The scientists in the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, neuroscientists concerned with informing the public about the progress and promise of brain research, take pride in the increased media coverage of brain research. We decided to ask them to give Cerebrum readers their book recommendations. 

We began by defining 12 categories, such as “Chemistry of the Brain,” “Consciousness,” and “Memoirs and Personal Experience.” We then asked a group of widely read scientists and experienced science book editors to nominate books in each category. From these we created a ballot sent to members of the Dana Alliance, who were asked to vote their first, second, and third choice in each category. Write-ins were encouraged as well. Some 35 Dana Alliance scientists across the country responded by our deadline. Using a point scoring system, their votes were tabulated to produce the winning books listed in the special tear-out insert. 

A few comments on the brief reviews that follow. We try to give original publication dates; few fields of science threaten the new book with such rapid obsolescence (but some books survive, as you will see). Where possible, though, we also mention new editions, especially expanded and updated editions. 

That raises another issue. We have included books now out of print. Some scientists wrote to us, pointing this out and asking if readers would be frustrated. Possibly, but we decided to list the books. First, many readers, including most college students, will have easy access to a library. Second, we saw an opportunity for publishers. Why should these outstanding books be out of print? (They may not be for long. Perhaps because his new book, Mood Genes, became an immediate hit, Samuel H. Barondes’s out-of-print Molecules and Mental Illness will be back in a new paperback edition in a few months.) 

We thank all Dana Alliance members who responded, with special thanks to those who wrote comments on their ballots. Books listed here are not endorsed by the Dana Alliance, of course; they are the choices of responding Dana Alliance members. 

Book lovers (not to mention authors) have strong opinions. This would be a sorry survey if it did not spark disagreements. An internationally known psychologist nominated a book that an equally well known neuropharmacologist derogated, in his note to us, as “basically a modern ‘myth of mental illness’ anti-reason, anti-psychiatry screed.’” Some told us that books were in the wrong category, or not for lay readers. A psychiatrist wrote that our category “Neurological Diseases and Disorders” implied that these books were not part of psychiatry, and added, “A very sad idea!” Perhaps that category is better described as “Mental and Neurological Disorders.” 

One scientist who received our nomination form wrote, “I’ve gone over your Cerebrum survey and I’m amazed at how many of the more modern books I really haven’t read.” He thoughtfully recommended some “older historical books...which set the stage for modern research.” 

And so it went. We hope that discussion will continue in the letters section of the next issue of Cerebrum. We will welcome letters of up to 500 words commenting on the books chosen, other books, or other issues raised by the survey. 

Following are the 12 categories with brief introductions and reviews of the books voted best. There is one exception. Category 11 is “Books for Children and Young People.” We received not a single nomination in that category. We nevertheless included it in the survey, hoping for some write-ins. We will mention them.

1. GENERAL BOOKS ABOUT THE BRAIN

Where can you get one book to bring to Neuroscience 101? Of the three books below, Brain, Mind, and Behavior is most accessible to the lay reader. Images of Mind comes next. Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior is a textbook, which makes it a questionable choice for lay readers. It received multiple nominations, however, and then the fourth highest total score in the survey, more than any other general book on the brain. Brain, Mind, and Behavior, a truly general account of neuroscience for lay readers, is now almost 15 years old, but a new edition will be published in 2000. 

Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior

Edited by Eric R. Kandel, James H. Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell. Appleton & Lange, 1995. $59.95. 743 pp.

This is a textbook for undergraduates with some biology experience and may be difficult for lay readers. Three primary authors, all at Columbia University, are joined by a dozen more to present the subject—from neuron to memory—with many illustrations, all technical, and appropriate mathematical formulas and models of compounds. Scientists in the Cerebrum survey, however, voted overwhelmingly for this book as a general introduction to neuroscience. At 743 pages, it is our list’s most comprehensive introduction to brain science.

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“What does the phrase ‘everything the brain does’ mean? It certainly means moving, sensing, eating, drinking, breathing, talking, and sleeping. But does it include mental acts—thoughts and dreams, musings and insights, hopes and aspirations? This book takes the view that ‘the mind’ results when many key cells of the brain work together, just as ‘digestion’ results when the cells of the intestinal tract work together. You may disagree with this view, but that should not stop you from being curious.” 

Brain, Mind, and Behavior

By Floyd E. Bloom and Arlyne Lazerson. W. H. Freeman & Company,  1988 pb (1985). $19.95. 394 pp.

Is there one book that “says it all” for the newcomer to neuroscience? If it isn’t this one by Bloom (chairman of neuropharmacology at Scripps Research Institute and editor of Science) and Lazerson (a science writer), it just may not be possible. Written to accompany a PBS-TV series, Brain, Mind, and Behavior systematically moves from monamine transmitters to thinking and consciousness, with color illustrations all the way. The book is eminently readable by a smart high-school senior, but it addresses as well subtle controversies and questions in research. A 14-page glossary ices the cake. However, you’ll need a way to cover the almost 15 years of advances since this pioneering book was published, unless you want to await the new edition.

Images of Mind

By Michael I. Posner and Marcus E. Raichle. Scientific American Library, 1997 pb (1994). $19.95. 257 pp.

No recent development has transformed neuroscience more than imaging technology. What brain research area has been untouched by its power? As a result, this volume—by a foremost cognitive psychologist (Posner) and a pioneer of positron emission tomography (Raichle)—is not just a book on imaging; it is also a general brain book. Chapters deal with mental images, interpreting words, mental operations, attention, brain development, and mental disorders. Visuals, including brain scans, are generous, but so is the lucid text. Images of Mind is more than a survey; it reports research by the authors at major PET centers. 

2. CHEMISTRY OF THE BRAIN

Authors know that brain chemistry ordinarily doesn’t bring in the crowds. Rising to the challenge, two top scientists have written understandable introductions to the brain from a chemical perspective and, thanks to Scientific American Library, packaged their stories in lavishly illustrated books. Both are clear, brief introductions to brain science as well as to the more specific topic. The third book on this list, almost as famous as its subject, is mostly psychological and philosophical—a meditation on where the amazing successes of brain chemistry are taking us.

Drugs and the Brain

By Solomon Snyder. Scientific American Library pb, 1996 (Scientific American Books, Inc., 1986). $19.95. 228 pp.

Drugs and the Brain received the most votes and the highest score in the survey. Its author, director of the department of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, unites expertise in psychiatry, pharmacology, and neuroscience, is a world leader in neuropharmacological research, and writes well. He tells the story of brain research from the viewpoint of brain chemistry and pharmacological agents (some known over thousands of years) and what they reveal about our brains. The 1996 paperback (Scientific American Library) updates the story with molecular biology, gene cloning, and discovery of neurotransmitter receptors, as well as the practical story of new drugs such as Prozac for depression and clozapine for schizophrenia. This book takes even interested beginners from a cold start to a grasp of neuroscience’s best line of attack on brain mysteries. The Scientific American Library series offers superb scientific illustrations and other good visuals.  

Molecules and Mental Illness.

By Samuel H. Barondes. W. H. Freeman, pb, 1999 (Scientific American Library, 1993). $19.95. 215 pp.

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“The remarkable thing about these drugs is that such simple chemicals can produce such profound and reproducible effects on beings as complicated as we are. Small amounts of some of these compounds may change mood, perception, thought processes, and even general behavioral patterns that we think of as part of character or personality. This observation should not be simply taken for granted, since it is not at all self-evident that introduction of a specific molecule into the human brain could have such pervasive and coherent psychological effects.”

This book teaches molecular biology while telling the story of biological psychiatry. Barondes, chairman of psychiatry at UC San Francisco and director of Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, is an expert explainer (as he showed again in Mood Genes, also on this list). He guides you through heredity, molecular genetics, cellular neuroscience, and psychopharmacology with fascinating sidelights and fine Scientific American Library illustrations (you’ve never seen ion channels like these). Much technical material is in boxes, although discussions of specific drug reactions get mildly complicated. When he turns to psychiatric disorders and what molecular biology has to say about their causes and treatment, Barondes creates vivid portraits of manic-depressive illness, major depression, schizophrenia, and disabling fears and compulsions. At the end, the entire story is recapitulated in verse (“And by yet another tactic/You may switch from fright to fight/By increasing GABA’s binding/To a GABA binding site.”) With so much to offer, this book should not have gone out of print, and its return is welcome 

Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self

By Peter D. Kramer. Penguin Books pb, 1997 (Viking Penguin, 1993) $13.95. 448 pp.

What if a widely available drug, with few side effects, could alter personality—make the shy outgoing, the sedate energetic, the timid bold? To many, that was Prozac. As it became a pharmaceutical bestseller, Dr. Kramer looked at the implications in a long, contemplative, readable book that also became a bestseller. If Prozac transformed personalities of relatively healthy patients, what did this mean for our view of psychiatry? Mental illness? Biology as destiny? Elaborations went into more than 60 pages of notes. In the 1997 edition, Kramer’s “Afterword” looks at his book’s history, new developments, and—as always—larger issues.

3. ISSUES OF DEVELOPMENT AND LIFE SPAN

The categories used in our survey have their limits, clearly revealed here. Studying development of the brain is a prime strategy in neuroscience, not only to increase general understanding of brain structure and function but also to make progress against genetic defects and developmental disorders that can devastate the human brain. Of interest, therefore, is that none of the books listed in this category addresses development of the human brain and the investigations that have illuminated it. For that, readers will have to look to the three general books on the brain, as well as to books on specific aspects of the brain such as vision, that address development. 

Books in the present category address three fascinating but more specific aspects of lifespan and development: the health of our brains as we age; the extraordinary new research on temperament—what is given, what we can modify; and the brain from an evolutionary point of view.   

The Longevity Strategy: How to Live to 100 Using the Brain-Body Connection

by David Mahoney and Richard Restak. John Wiley & Sons and The Dana Press pb, 1999 (1998). $22.95. 250 pp.

David Mahoney, the business executive and philanthropist who is chairman of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, teamed up with the neurologist and neuropsychiatrist Richard Restak for this roadmap to a healthy longevity.  They provide thirty-one practical, research-based tactics for maintaining cognitive and emotional wellbeing, physical health, and financial stability through the lifespan.  In a fresh perspective on the relationship between brain and body, they point out both the emerging health links between the two and how mindful use of the brain’s capabilities can support the reader’s goal of aging well. The work has a charm not always found in health-science books, thanks to the authors’ cheerful citations of their personal experiences and the remarks of figures in sports, films, and public affairs on the fine points of aging and health.

Galen’s Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature

By Jerome Kagan. Westview Press pb, 1998 (Basic Books, 1995). $25.00. 376 pp.

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“Although it is not always necessary to ask the evolutionary questions regarding the adaptiveness of every stable trait, the presence of high and low fearful members in all mammalian species suggests that both styles must have adaptive features in order to survive over generations. The animal—or child—who is cautious to discrepancy is less likely to risk harm by impulsively approaching an unfamiliar object. On the other hand, the bold individual is more likely to gain resources that are limited.... [T]he advantages associated with each temperament are balanced by disadvantages in a different context. There are no free lunches.” 

Psychologist Jerome Kagan, who heads the interdisciplinary Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, takes a perceptive look at what research into infant and child development can teach us about human nature, in particular the biological influences on temperament. He sees in his more than 15 years of research on what he calls  “inhibited” and “uninhibited” children confirmation of Galen of Pergamon’s second century description of melancholic and sanguine adults. Weaving in an insightful analysis of the philosophical, historical, and social issues, he argues that free will is not undermined by these inborn temperamental biases; we may not be able to control our emotions but we can control our actions. Extensive end notes on the science and methodology help keep the flow of the text clear but make the book valuable to professional as well as lay readers.

Evolving Brains

By John Morgan Allman. Scientific American Library, 1999. $34.95. 224 pp.

Evolving Brains barely had been published when it was voted a Great Brain Book in this survey. That might be because Allman brings a rare combination of neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and developmental biology to his work, as Melvyn Goodale explains in his review (page 89). Or it might be because he is a distinguished contributor in his own right to brain research (on vision), who now has written a fascinating account of the uncanny, unconscious genius of evolution brilliantly improvising the brain in response to the needs of the gut, the blood, the hunt, and, always, the next generation. Beautifully illustrated. 

4. COGNITION, LEARNING, AND MEMORY

In a sense, these are the “payoff” topics of brain research: new knowledge of the functions of the brain that we depend on for our day-to-day effectiveness and over which we can exercise significant control. Larry R. Squire transformed our thinking about memory with his insights into the distinctly different types of memory that seem to operate in the human brain. Daniel L. Schacter’s recent work has been inspired by the public controversy over “recovered memories” and their use in the courtroom. Steven Pinker, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is represented twice on this list. His book The Language Instinct was published before How the Mind Works (under our category “Consciousness”). 

Not represented in this category is a new genre of memory book: the review of what science can tell us about heading off memory loss or even strengthening memory through exercise (mental and physical), appropriate nutrition, and other steps. 

Memory and Brain

By Larry R. Squire. Oxford University Press pb, 1987. $26. 315 pp.

Looking back at two decades of productive research on memory, Squire sets out to integrate the work of psychologists and neurobiologists into a coherent account of the nature of memory: synaptic changes, storage, learning, information processing, and types of memory. On the latter issue he can cite two dozen papers of his own, establishing the distinction between declarative (“what”) and procedural (“how”) types of memory. Squire’s narrative is clear and sober, free of technical jargon, and comes with a glossary. He sets the historical context of new discoveries. A decade after writing this book, Squire and his opposite number in neural studies, Eric Kandel (the “dream team” in the memory field), have joined forces to write Memory: From Molecules to Mind (1999), which will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Cerebrum.

Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past

By Daniel L. Schacter. Basic Books pb, 1996. $14.00. 398 pp.

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“What has happened to us in the past determines what we take out of our encounters in life; memories are records of how we have experienced events, not replicas of the events themselves.  Experiences are encoded by brain networks whose connections have already been shaped by previous encounters with the world. This preexisting knowledge powerfully influences how we encode and store new memories, contributing to the nature, texture, and quality of what we will recall of the moment.”

We seldom notice memory’s daily feats. Memory is just “us.” Decades of research by scientists such as Professor Schacter, chairman of psychology at Harvard, have begun to map the multiple, complex systems that underlie those feats. In prose always readable (100 pages of notes and bibliography are optional), Schacter tells the story that brain research has found. We learn that with memory’s power comes fragility, limitations seen not only in disease and aging but also in explosive issues such as “recovered memories” of child abuse that have put innocent teachers in prison. Schacter weighs it all with scientific rigor and human warmth.

The Language Instinct

By Stephen Pinker. HarperPerennial pb, 1995 (William Morrow and Company, 1994). $15.00. 494 pp.

Stephen Pinker, a psychologist turns a phenomenon that most of us take for granted— language—into a wonder and mystery that, he proposes, is at the heart of human development. Disputing the theory that language is a cultural construct, he argues that it is ingrained, an “instinct.” We use it, says Pinker, because language is “the product of a well-engineered biological instinct,” as hard-wired in humans as making a web is in spiders. Thinking about language as part of what makes us human, posits Pinker, we begin to see it in a new light. Notes and a brief glossary. 

5. CONSCIOUSNESS

For human beings, at least, the brain is about consciousness. Consciousness is the way that we actually experience the functioning of the brain (more precisely, the results of its functioning) and its malfunctioning. For reasons to be found in the history of philosophy and psychology, however, most neuroscientists until recently actively avoided investigating consciousness —or even, as John Searle points out, mentioning it. That has all changed now. Consciousness is being examined from every conceivable point of view, by every discipline concerned with neuroscience, and major conferences are called to consider the results. The three books on this list are famous in the field and well known to lay readers.

One prominent neuroscientist who responded to our survey took strong exception to including How the Mind Works as a nominee for this category. Pinker, this scientist commented, concludes his book by saying that consciousness cannot be studied and will probably never be explained. At least it is safe to suggest that, as brain research progresses, consciousness is likely to be the last remaining mystery. Francis Crick holds out hope that the mystery may give way by the end of the twenty-first century.

How the Mind Work s

by Steven Pinker. W.W. Norton & Company pb, 1999 (1997). $17.00. 660 pp.

How does the mind enable us do what we do, from calculating calculus (for those of us who can actually do that) to tying our shoelaces? Pinker attempts to explain the brain’s natural ability to perform feats that even the most sophisticated computer could not. For example, how does the mind affix an object in space (such as a doorknob), know what it does (turn to open a door), and which direction it turns (clockwise), and also know what the object doesn’t do (make toast), all at the same time? Pinker also explores how the mind thinks, reasons, falls in love, and develops family bonds.

Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman. BasicBooks pb, 1992. $18.00. 280 pp.

A Nobel laureate presents his complex and revolutionary vision of how evolution has led from simple cells to the intricate biology of our brains—and, in Edelman’s view, our extraordinary minds and unique human consciousness. Following his ideas can be challenging, but Edelman takes great care in his writing to lay a clear path, expose problems, raise questions, and guide the reader along. This book, like many of Edelman’s works, has its infuriated critics and its ardent devotees; it is essential reading in the neurobiology of consciousness.

The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

by Francis Crick. Simon & Schuster pb, 1994. $14.00. 317 pp.

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“I suspect that...people have often not seen the full implications of the hypothesis. I myself find it difficult at times to avoid the idea of a homunculus. One slips into it so easily. The Astonishing Hypothesis states that all aspects of the brain’s behavior are due to the activities of neurons. It will not do to explain all the various complex stages of visual processing in terms of neurons and then carelessly assume that some aspect of the act of seeing does not need an explanation because it is what ‘I’ do naturally.”

Nobel laureate Crick, codiscoverer with James Watson of DNA’s structure, takes on the queen of scientific problems. His book is about consciousness and the case for scientific investigation of it. The “astonishing hypothesis” is that “all aspects of the brain’s behavior are due to the activities of neurons” (that’s all, including lofty aspects once called “soul”). Crick’s challenge is to make real to us what it would mean to provide a complete explanation of awareness solely in neural terms. He does so by focusing on visual awareness and proposing research strategies (and specific experiments) for studying it, so several chapters deal with the brain’s visual system. Crick is refreshingly frank about his chief competitor, the religious explanation of soul. “Now is the time,” he writes, “to take the problem of consciousness seriously.” Crick’s brief introduction to the brain is superb, and he annotates dozens of books for further reading. �

6. PERCEPTION AND MOTION

Perception and motion are linked in the brain. Much is now known, for example, about how the brain “sees” and registers motion and position. Internal perception, or proprioception, is our direct experience of our body’s position in space. And motion, of course, is often the output of the brain and nervous system in response to the input of perception. Nevertheless, no book in this category deals explicitly with motion. This is not surprising. Research on vision has tended to dominate the study of the brain over the past half century, so that today a great deal of what we know about the brain, including the neocortex, has to do with vision.

Eye, Brain, and Vision

By David H. Hubel. Scientific American Library pb, 1995 (1988). $19.95. 242 pp.

How do light rays falling on 125 million receptors in each of our eyes become the scene—in color, depth, and motion—that we perceive? In 1950 your question would have received, at best, a sketchy answer. By 1988 the answer required a fair-sized book (this one), and the primary visual cortex was the best understood part of the brain. For their role in that knowledge revolution, David Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel received a Nobel Prize in 1981. Here Hubel tells the story for readers, he says, with scientific training but not biology expertise. Trained or not, readers who like science—and how a great scientist thinks—will enjoy this book. Color illustrations on most pages.

Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing

By Richard L. Gregory. Princeton University Press pb, 1997 (1966). $8.95  277 pp.

Richard Gregory, then at Cambridge University, wrote his book as “an introduction [his emphasis] to the psychology of vision.” The period’s headlong progress in research on vision and the brain would have guaranteed instant obsolescence, except that Gregory did new editions in 1972, 1977, and 1979, then a greatly expanded edition in 1997. Although in one way this is a primer, Gregory has a special slant: approaching vision through the analysis and categorization of visual illusions. On this, he is a pioneer, making the book unique (not to mention fascinating), with visual illusions to illustrate each chapter and to make you realize that deep mysteries remain.

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“The picture that one obtains from studying the visual cortex is one of multiple areas and of parallel pathways leading to them. It is a picture that shows a deep division of labour, the evidence for which is best when obtained from the pathologic human brain. Yet the common, daily experience of the normal human brain stands forever opposed to the notion of a division of labour and of functional segregation. For that experience is one of wholeness, of a unitary visual image, in which all the visual attributes take their correct place, in which one can register the precise position, shape, and colour as well as the direction and speed of motion of a bus simultaneously and instantaneously, as if all the information coming from that bus had been analyzed in one place, in a fraction of a second.”

A Vision of the Brain

By Semir Zeki. Blackwell Science Ltd. pb, 1993. $49.95. 366 pp.

We’ve come a long way from our grade school understanding of vision through the metaphor of a camera’s lens, film, and eventual photo in hand. In decades of research on the visual cortex, Semir Zeki, a professor of neurobiology at the University of London, has come to believe that we see in order to obtain knowledge about and understand the world. In this elegant and detailed analysis of how and why we see—particularly color and motion—in a constantly changing visual environment, Zeki first reviews the historical twists and turns in studying vision. He then lays out his understanding of functional specialization, integration, and how our conscious perception of what we see arises in the brain. Many color illustrations. Zeki is an international authority on visual arts and the brain.

7. EMOTIONS AND BEHAVIOR

Each of these books, though for somewhat different reasons, was hailed almost immediately as a classic. Sapolsky’s book became a best-seller. Both LeDoux and Damasio are now cited in virtually every bibliography on the brain. Did the immediate excitement over these books owe anything to the fact that they were among the first to deal with emotions and the brain? In our survey, The Emotional Brain received the third-highest score of any book. Like some others on this list, it reports the author’s own landmark research even as it addresses the broad topic.

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life

By Joseph LeDoux. Touchstone Books pb, 1998 (Simon & Schuster, 1996). $14.00. 384 pp.

Contemporary brain science did not begin by looking at emotions. Perception, even memory, seemed simpler. A couple of decades ago, this changed; publication of this book attests to the progress that has resulted. LeDoux and others traced how emotional stimuli moved through the brain, and they discovered some big surprises (e.g., two separate routes for reacting on red alert or more contemplatively). Building on this research, The Emotional Brain reasons its way through questions about the nature of emotions, conservation of emotional systems across species, conscious and unconscious emotional responses, and the relationship between feelings and emotions. LeDoux traces the history of thinking about the emotions. He set out to write for laymen, and succeeded; but that hasn’t kept his book from becoming a “must cite”—a new launching pad for an entire field.

“As emotional beings, we think of emotions as conscious experiences. But when we begin probing emotion in the brain, we see conscious emotional experiences as but one part,and not necessarily the central function, of the systems that generate them. This does not make our conscious experiences of love or fear any less real or important. It just means that if we are going to understand where our emotional experiences come from we have to reorient our pursuit of them. From the point of view of the lover, the only thing important about love is the feeling. But from the point of view of trying to understand what a feeling is, why it occurs, where it comes from, and why some people give or receive it more easily than others, love, the feeling, may not have much to do with it at all.” 

Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

By Antonio R. Damasio. Avon Books pb, 1995

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994). $12.50. 312 pp.

The European philosopher René Descartes saw mind and body as fundamentally separate. The idea infected Western thought with the premise that rationality and feeling, the mental and the biological, don’t mix. Damasio challenges that dualism root and branch, marshaling evidence from basic and clinical research and interpreting it with rare philosophical acuity. New brain books seldom fail to reference Descartes’ Error, suggesting an emerging classic. Reason and emotion, mind and brain, personality and biology are profoundly integrated on every level, Damasio declares—and the walls of philosophy shake. He makes it all eminently readable (now in 16 languages).

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“As a physiologist who has studied stress for many years, I clearly see that the physiology of the system is often no more decisive than the psychology.... [T]he things we all find stressful—traffic jams, money worries, overwork—[f]ew of them are ‘real’ in the sense that zebra or that lion would understand. In our privledged lives, we are uniquely smart enough to have invented these stressors and uniquely foolish enough to have let them, too often, dominate our lives. Surely we have the potential wisdom to banish them.”

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping

By Robert M. Sapolsky. W. H. Freeman and Company pb, 1998 (1994). $14.95. 368 pp.

Sapolsky is a scientist and science popularizer who made a big hit with this book. No surprise. Evolution of the fight-or-flight mechanism that, in a burst of physiological fireworks, can save a zebra from a lion, is often turned on—and left on—by the psychological and social stressors in our lives. Then the sympathetic nervous system’s response to “danger” becomes the problem. Sapolsky explains all this, writing about glucocorticoids and insulin secretion with wit and charm. You don’t have to wait for a tagged-on advice chapter; this book is a “how-to.” There is a 1998 revised and updated version from Freeman with three new chapters.

8. NEUROLOGICAL DISEASES AND DISORDERS

There are perhaps more books on specific diseases and disorders than on any other aspect of the brain. That is to be expected, with an estimated one out of five Americans experiencing some kind of brain-related problem. Clearly, though, scientists of the Dana Alliance took a scientific perspective on this category, voting for books that explain science rather than provide advice for patients and families. (In a future survey, a category of books for patients with brain disorders will be useful.)

The highly popular writer on the brain, Oliver Sacks, is clearly a favorite with scientists as well. Two of his books are represented here. It is interesting, though, that one of the most celebrated brain books of all time, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, tied for first place with a very new book, Mood Genes, by Samuel H. Barondes. Sacks, Barondes, Pinker, and Squire, by the way, all have two books on our list. The Broken Brain is another book that has survived the headlong changes in brain research for almost 15 years.   

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat and Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks. HarperPerennial pb, 1990 (Simon & Schuster, 1970). $13.00. 243 pp.

Although today’s best-known popular writer on the brain, Sacks has sacrificed no credibility with scientists, as attested by the two books on this list. Patients with lesions and disorders have been a crucial window on the brain for neuroscientists. In this famous book, Sacks presents a series of such cases, from Korsakov’s syndrome, with its devastation of memory, to Tourette’s syndrome, with its explosion of mental energy, in portraits that are profoundly revelatory and filled with compassion for the afflicted individuals. Sacks, a master stylist, is a clinical neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Mood Genes: Hunting for Origins of Mania and Depression

By Samuel H. Barondes. W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998. $24.95. 237 pp.

The search is on for genes affecting complex mental disorders. These are not one-gene illnesses, nor illnesses inevitable if you have the genes. Thus the gene hunters face boggling complexities in laboratory and field. Right now a major search is for genes underlying mania and depression using linkage studies of families in Costa Rica. Samuel Barondes, a gene hunter, tells this story in terms of sufferers and scientists, bringing out the excitement, complexity, and controversies. He manages to teach science (e.g., a review of Mendelian genetics) as he goes. He concludes with frank comments on genetic testing—the risks and hopes.

Awakenings

By Oliver Sacks. Doubleday. 1973. 464 pp. Out of print.

This Sacks classic is an account of victims of a decades-long sleeping sickness (encephalitis lethargica) who awaken to a new life after being treated with the drug L-dopa. As in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks is able to enter into the world of someone with a neurological disease and help us understand both our common humanity and the medical science.

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“The biological perspective seems to replace one type of determinism with another, which may seem even more awesome and overwhelming. The biological perspective implies that mental illness is largely due to factors outside the patient’s own control, primarily to the type of brain and body he was born with and the environment in which they have been nourished.  While this perspective may seem deterministic, it is not totally so. In the first place, neuroscience also stresses the notion of ‘plasticity’ —that is, the brain has built into it the ability to adapt and change in response to injury or changes in the environment.... While identity and personality undoubtedly do reside somewhere within our brains and are at least partly programmed there from birth, we feel as if they are separate and under our control. Living our lives with our own particular assigned brains is like playing a game of cards with a particular hand that we have been dealt. We cannot control the cards we are given, but we can choose how we will play them.” 

The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychiatry

By Nancy C. Andreasen. HarperPerennial pb, 1985 (Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1984). $13.50. 278 pp.

In 1984 you could publish a book revealing that along with psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy there was something called “biological psychiatry,” concerned with the “broken brain” (not the “troubled mind”) —and have this book hailed as “must” reading for physicians. Andreasen, a

psychiatrist, wrote that book, introducing the new boy with chapters on the history of mental illness, the brain, the four major syndromes, diagnosis, treatment, and research. Many authors claim to write for laymen; Andreasen, a former English teacher, really did. Her subtext is that mental illness is a disease, no more shameful than cancer. Andreasen wrote that, in 1983, ideas whose expression she drafted in 1982 had become outdated, but 16 years have not dimmed the popularity of her book.

9. MEMOIRS AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind received the second-highest total score in our survey. One well-known scientist wrote to us that Jamison’s book should be in the category “Neurological Diseases and Disorders” because it is not only a memoir but also an important contribution to understanding bi-polar disorder. (Jamison is coauthor with Frederick Goodwin of Manic-Depressive Illness, one of the best-known reference books on bipolar disorder.) This is a valid comment, but it applies to all three highly personal memoirs in this category. Alice Wexler and Temple Grandin are not neuroscientists, but both are conversant with the scientific side of the stories they tell. Their books, like Jamison’s, view a brain disorder from the inside with the trained eye of a scholar or a scientist.

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“There is no easy way to tell other people that you have manic-depressive illness; if there is, I haven’t found it.”

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

By Kay Redfield Jamison. Alfred A. Knopf pb, 1997 (1995). $12.00. 224 pp.

Kay Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and authority on manic-depressive illness, told the world with this book what only her colleagues knew—that she herself suffered from the illness. The brilliance and insight with which she told her story of a childhood, education, loves, and career laced with horrifying bouts of mania and depression became exhibit number one for her thesis: This illness can woo its victims with exalted flights of mind so exhilarating that taking lithium to save their sanity can become an agonizing decision. In this bestseller, Jamison makes that issue real for us—in personal, poetic, and scientific terms—as no other writer has.

The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, Vol. 1 and 2

Edited by Larry R. Squire. Society for Neuroscience, 1996 and 1998. $49.95/volume. 607 pp/433 pp.

As president of the Society for Neuroscience, Larry Squire, a pioneer of memory research, conceived of this series and edited both volumes. Well-known neuroscientists from America and Europe contributed (17 in volume 1, 13 in volume 2), supposedly assigned to write autobiography, not a scientific article. Outcomes varied, with pieces running from fairly autobiographical (Herbert H. Jasper) to mostly scientific (Sir Bernard Katz). Still, this was a first attempt to get neuroscientists to write autobiography. The shorter second volume, two years after the first, eliminated technical material. There are good photographs of each scientist.

We have a tie for third place in this category. Both books are reviewed.

Mapping Fate: A Memoir of Family, Risk, and Genetic Research

By Alice Wexler, University of California pb, 1995. $14.95. 321 pp.

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“A mood both somber and celebratory opens the 1995 joint meetings of the International Huntington’s Association with the Research Group on Huntington’s Disease of the World Federation of Neurology.... Amid talk of mouse models, intermediate alleles, and subcellular expressions of the protein huntingtin, the presence of those who have tested positive for the Huntington’s gene creates a special atmosphere, a powerful aura, the haunted future we are trying to disrupt. How are people living with this “toxic knowledge,” as it has been called? The ones who are here, the activists in the organization, are those who have managed at some level to master their anxieties and their fear.  I admire their courage and their determination, these people who have gambled on the toss of a genetic die.”

Genetic research is the ground of many of modern science’s most compelling true-life adventure stories. In Mapping Fate, Alice Wexler skillfully interweaves the heartbreaking story of her family’s odyssey with Huntington’s disease—which killed her mother—and the dramatic, suspenseful, and eventually triumphant scientific search for the Huntington’s gene, spearheaded by her sister Nancy and her father, Milton. The ethical, philosophical, and emotional issues of having a hereditary fatal illness, and being able to test for the gene before there is a cure, become inescapably personal in Wexler’s beautifully written account.

Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism

By Temple Grandin. Vintage Books pb, 1996 (Doubleday, 1995). $12.00. 222 pp.

This is not a book about the experience and science of autism, but an extraordinary report from deep within that seemingly unfathomable world. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed many of the livestock-handling facilities in the United States and who lectures widely on autism because she herself is autistic. She lucidly describes how she experiences and understands her world, and how she builds bridges to ours, and in so doing teaches us much not only about autism but also about thinking and feeling in animals and in ourselves.

10. THE BRAIN IN RELATION TO OTHER FIELDS

Our intention in creating this category was to find books that examined the implications of brain research for other fields—a central part of Cerebrum’s mission. Whether this took place in the nominating and voting the reader will decide. John R. Searle, a professional philosopher, is in a different field, but it is clear that his book is about the brain and easily could have been in our category “Consciousness.”  (Searle is the only professional philosopher on our list. That seems extraordinary, given the attention that philosophers and others have paid to the mind-brain question.)

Readers may wonder why Neuronal Man is in this category. Perhaps it is because Jean-Pierre Changeux is well known for his philosophical theory of  “eliminative materialism,” or because he states explicitly that his approach is “interdisciplinary.” The Placebo Effect, edited by Anne Harrington, is literally an interdisciplinary work by multiple authors from different fields.

The Rediscovery of the Mind

By John R. Searle. MIT Press pb, 1992. $16.50. 270 pp.

This book is about the philosophy of mind, not the brain. How one chooses to study the brain, however, depends on one’s view of mind. Searle’s view is that mind is consciousness, which (however complex its emergence in the brain) is a natural phenomenon to be studied, not explained away or reduced to neural nets or “intelligent behavior.” Having rejected materialism and dualism, and having admitted consciousness to the natural world, Searle analyzes its nature. His arguments are cogent, as is his dissection of materialism, which irks cognitive scientists whose investigations avoid all reference to mental life. But to study the brain while dismissing consciousness, says Searle, is like studying biology while explaining away the inconvenient emergence of life. Searle’s prose is pellucid but does not make these matters escapist reading.

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“Suppose we tried to say the pain is ‘nothing but’ the patterns of neurons firings. Well, if we tried such an ontological reduction, the essential features of the pain would be left out. No description of the third-person, objective, physiological facts would convey the subjective, first-person character of the pain, simply because the first-person features are different from the third person features.”

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“The brain of Homo sapiens probably differentiated in the African plains, in populations of a few hundred thousand individuals. Today, billions of these people have invaded almost the entire planet and are even trying to travel beyond it. Are the organization and the flexibility of the human brain still compatible with the evolution of an environment that it can control only very partially? Is a profound disharmony being established between the human brain and the world around it? We may well ask.”

Neuronal Man: The Biology of Mind

By Jean-Pierre Changeux. Princeton
University Press pb, 1997 (Fayard, 1983). $17.95. 348 pp.

Changeux, a distinguished French neurobiologist, wrote an introduction to neuroscience for general readers that became celebrated in Europe. He devotes more than the usual attention to history (the first known mention of the brain dates to 3000 B.C.) and to cross-species comparisons that probe why human brains are so relatively capable. Unlike some introductions to the brain, Neuronal Man has few illustrations, none in color, despite Changeux’s reputation as an art collector and authority. It does have a glossary and an extensive bibliography. The 1997 Princeton Science Library edition has a brief preface by Vernon B. Mountcastle, the dean of physiological neuroscientists.

The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Exploration

Edited by Anne Harrington. Harvard University Press, 1997. $39.95. 260 pp.

Medical science has traditionally been uncomfortable with the paradox of placebos: “sham” treatments that can produce real, even dramatic, effects on healing. This insightful collection of essays and dialogues, based on a 1994 Harvard conference, confronts the dilemma—and the discomfort— head on. Looking at placebos from viewpoints as diverse as neuropharmacology and anthropology, molecular biology and religion, the contributors place placebos at the intersection of biology and culture, with much to teach us about the interaction of our minds and bodies. Harrington will futher explore the challenge presented by placebos in an article in a future issue of Cerebrum.

11. BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

We included this category in our call for nominations but netted nothing. Undaunted, we put the category in the survey itself, with plenty of room for write-ins. Below is a complete enumeration, with comments, of the few entries we received for ages 9-12. Obviously there are promising avenues, outside the scope of this survey, to search for children’s books on the brain.

Brain Surgery for Beginners and Other Major Operations for Minors

By David West and Steve Parker. Millbrook Press, 1995.

Focus on Drugs and the Brain (A Drug Alert Book)

By David Friedman and David Neuhaus. Twenty First Century Books, 1991.

The Body Book

Illustrated by Sara Bonnett Stein. Workman Publishing Co., 1992.

12. HISTORICAL CLASSICS

In this category we sought nominations for books from earlier eras that made an enduring contribution to brain science. Cerebrum asked scientists to consider books published before World War II—that is, before the era of modern neuroscience—but going back as far as they wished. What about Aristotle? What about John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding? What about The Anatomy of Melancholy? For that matter, what about Sigmund Freud, an author who received not a single nomination?

In the nominations, a few early scientists were suggested (such as Aleksandr Luria), but none before the late nineteenth century. Our guess is that scientists interpreted “brain” and “science” rather literally, limiting their recommendations to professional scientists. Donald Hebb scored just one point lower than William James; Hebb is a figure who spans World War II, publishing his classic The Organization of Behavior in 1949. This book is now out of print.

Recollections of My Life

By Santiago Ramón y Cajal. MIT Press pb, 1996. (Published 1901-1917 in Madrid). $23.00. 638 pp.

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“The garden of neurology holds out to the investigator captivating spectacles and incomparable artistic emotions. In it, my aesthetic instincts found full satisfaction at last. Like the entomologist in pursuit of brightly colored butterflies, my attention hunted, in the flower garden of the gray matter, cells with delicate and elegant forms, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, the beating of whose wings may some day—who knows?—clarify the secret of mental life.”

One “founder” of neuroscience is Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish histologist born in 1852 whose massive writings and superb drawings are still the most cited source on the nervous system. Recollections is the story not only of his methods (he perfected Golgi staining) and chief discoveries, but of the astonishing life that began with boyhood rebellions and rose to every triumph, including the Nobel Prize (with Camillo Golgi) in 1906. The 1989 MIT Press paperback has a forward by W. Maxwell Cowan, who opines that Cajal’s is one of only two pre-World War II autobiographies of biologists still worth reading: an “astonishingly frank and engaging account of one man’s single-minded endeavor to understand the most complex of all biological issues, the organization and function of the nervous system.” The book lists 288 scientific publications by Ramón y Cajal, including many books.

The Principles of Psychology

By William James. Dover Publications pb, 2 vol., 1955 (Henry Holt & Co., 1890). $13.95. 689 pp.

In his monumental “long course,” James devoted fewer than 100 pages to the brain because little was known. “Chemical action must of course accompany brain-activity,” he writes at one point, “but little definite is known of its exact nature.” Then he turned to “the Science of Mental Life” and never had such a persistent, discriminating eye been focused inward and what it saw reported by so careful and erudite a scientist. Stream of thought, consciousness of self, attention, conception, perception of time, memory: Each aspect of mental life was analyzed, categorized, and conceptualized. Much remains valid—and not infrequently used as the starting point of discussions today—because James knew and honored the difference between observation and interpretation.

The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory

By Donald O. Hebb. (John Wiley, 1949). Out of print.

Hebb, a pioneering psychologist at the University of Montreal, is remembered for famous experiments in sensory deprivation but, most of all, for his statement of the principle that co-activation of neurons is required to strengthen the synaptic connection. This is cited in most accounts of learning theory and is called “Hebb’s Rule” (although it probably preceded Hebb, Vernon Mountcastle suggests in his recent Perceptual Neuroscience). The Organization of Behavior was Hebb’s culminating report to the world on his work and is still a classic. Unfortunately it is also out of print.

— By the Editors of Cerebrum



About Cerebrum

 
Bill Glovin, editor
Carolyn Asbury, Ph.D., consultant

Scientific Advisory Board
Joseph T. Coyle, M.D., Harvard Medical School
Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Pierre J. Magistretti, M.D., Ph.D., University of Lausanne Medical School and Hospital
Robert Malenka, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine
Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University
Donald Price, M.D., The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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