Our title is borrowed from one that John O’Hara chose for a collection of his short ﬁction, because telling a story is a way, older than written language, to know ourselves. Quite possibly, the newest way is brain research. One of the striking things about that research, however, is that methods and tools almost futuristic—gene manipulation, Echo Planar Imaging, stem cell transplantation—are being used to probe some of humanity’s oldest questions: What is memory? Why do we get depressed? How is consciousness possible in a material world? How can we control pain? From whence comes our sense of transcendence or awe? The mission is still “ourselves to know.”
More than 12 years ago, Nobel laureate James D. Watson, Ph.D., and then Dana Foundation chairman David Mahoney gathered 30 eminent neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York to debate the progress and promise of brain research. In 1992, the Decade of the Brain was just two years old, and most of the scientists felt that far more could be done to communicate their excitement about brain research to the public. By the time they left the meeting, they had vowed to create an alliance that would work to change the landscape of public knowledge, hope, and support for neuroscience.
Starting with those founding members, the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives has grown to more than 200 neuroscientists, including 10 Nobel laureates. All are leaders from the gamut of neuroscience disciplines— neurology and psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and neurophilosophy. Each has taken the pledge to become involved in communicating advances in brain research. Today, that commitment is carried out in many ways, including an annual Brain Awareness Week that is now international.
For communicating ideas in depth, few other commitments can match writing a book. Cerebrum discovered that during just four years (January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2003), Dana Alliance scientists published 30 books on the brain for the general reader. That is, roughly one in 10 Alliance scientists published a brain book for lay readers during those years, and a few published more than one.
Not one of these books is too technical for the lay reader, although some deal with inherently challenging ideas, such as a new theory of the neural basis of consciousness, and some address particular needs, such as living with Parkinson’s disease. Most of these books report and interpret the author’s own research, but all of them are understandable by the general reader.
The editors of Cerebrum set out to describe brieﬂy what these books are about, who wrote them, and what subjects the reader can expect to encounter—but also to capture the spirit of each book and comment on its level of presentation. It is a special pleasure to note the attention to good writing in most of these books. Virtually every author achieves an admirable clarity, and explanation of technical material is the rule; but many authors far exceed those important standards, creating prose that is a delight.
Book descriptions below are alphabetical by author. When an author published more than one book on the brain for general readers during the three-year period, all are described in a single write-up. When multiple authors or editors are listed, the Dana Alliance members are indicated by ■ .
Here are some of the most profound and revealing recent reports on what can be our era’s most searching and fruitful bid to understand ourselves.
Keep Your Brain Young: The Complete Guide to Physical and Emotional Health and Longevity
Guy M. McKhann, M.D.■, and Marilyn Albert, Ph.D.■
John Wiley & Sons, Inc./Dana Press, 2002. 304pp. $24.95
John Wiley & Sons, Inc./Dana Press, 2003. 304pp. $15.95 Paper
So now, along with worrying as we get older about how to cope with exercise, nutrition, sleep, sexual function, drinking, and new diseases, we have to read about taking care of our brain, too? Good news: it is all here, because, as the authors state in the introduction and then demonstrate at convincing length: “If there is one thing that determines how fully we live at any older age, it is how well our brains work.” They ought to know. Guy M. McKhann and Marilyn Albert, physicians at Johns Hopkins University, are well-known brain scientists whose professional lives are devoted to patients in the second half of life. Keep Your Brain Young is a guide to what you can expect in every area of life that involves the brain (and there are few areas that do not) as you move past 50: memory, nutrition, sleep, depression, alcohol, pain, sexual function, vision and other senses, and the serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease that may afﬂict the brain in older age. Readers seeking information on these subjects are usually in a quandary. Brain science is learning so much, so rapidly, about every one of these areas, that one wants to know the latest thinking, the value of the latest recommendations, and what lies ahead. But, while reading the latest reports on herbal treatments for better sleep, one may ruefully think: that’s new and exciting, but what can I do about getting up frequently at night to urinate? The great virtue of Keep Your Brain Young is that it moves easily and continually from the (sometimes homely) wisdom of the seasoned physician to the restless scanning of new possibilities characteristic of the active scientiﬁc investigator. This is the book to pack for a journey that can be as ﬁlled with beauty and grace as with new problems and challenges.
Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome
Nancy C. Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D.
Oxford University Press, 2001. 390pp. $35.00 Oxford University Press, 2004. 368pp. $16.95 Paper
In 1984, when Nancy Andreasen published The Broken Brain, a hostile takeover (which she politely calls “a major paradigm shift”) was under way in psychiatry. The psychoanalytical approach to mental illness was being swept aside by the biomedical, neuroscientiﬁc approach. Andreasen wrote The Broken Brain to help patients and their families (and not a few physicians) understand the changes. Andreasen’s purpose in Brave New Brain is to describe progress over a decade or more in understanding the chief categories of mental illness (schizophrenia, dementia, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders); how treatments have changed, especially in light of understanding the genetics of illnesses; and what lies ahead. Readers will ﬁnd a compassionate and insightful understanding of what it means to be mentally ill, a “mini-tutorial” on neuroscience and molecular genetics, a review of mental illnesses themselves, and comments on what it all means in social and economic terms— including the dangers that the runaway success of this revolution poses. The book’s attitude is a powerful but reasoned optimism, a vision of “a brave new world in which mental illnesses, now painfully common, become infrequent and easily treated.” Reviews in Nature and Science praise the clarity and liveliness of Andreasen’s presentation. She is the chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Psychiatry.
The Dying of Enoch Wallace: Life, Death, and the Changing Brain
Ira B. Black, M.D.
McGraw-Hill, 2001. 259pp. $24.95
Ira Black, professor and chairman of neuroscience and cell biology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, set out to explain neuroscience to the lay reader in a new way. He tells two stories side by side in every chapter: the history of neuroscience discoveries and discoverers in the 20th century and the story of an investment banker, Enoch Wallace, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and who suffers the inevitable cognitive decline. The story of neuroscience explains what is happening to the man and his brain; the story of the man lends speciﬁcity, coherence, and feeling to the technical complexities of what the science has accomplished. Although Wallace’s fate is sealed, and depressing, the growing knowledge of the brain injects optimism. Black’s theme is that the brain on every level is as ever changing as life itself and as responsive to our experience as to our genes. On another level, his message is that clinical and laboratory neuroscience ideally are a single, integrated enterprise, wherein lies the hope, if not for Enoch Wallace, for all the generations to follow. Neuroscientists and lay advocates of brain research praise both the scientiﬁc accuracy and the inspired writing in The Dying of Enoch Wallace.
The Dana Guide to Brain Health
Floyd E. Bloom, M.D.■, M. Flint Beal, M.D.■, and David J. Kupfer, M.D.■, Editors
Free Press, 2003. 768pp. $45.00
The Dana Guide to Brain Health is the ﬁrst comprehensive home reference book about the brain, how it works when it is healthy, and what happens when things go wrong. It is an easy-to-understand source for educated lay readers eager to learn more about brain science and for people with a recently diagnosed brain disorder. The three editors, leaders in neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry, imposed order and consistency on the contributions of 104 top doctors and researchers to produce a practical book that also educates the reader on brain form, development, and functions. The extended section on brain and nervous system disorders covers more than 70 neurologic and emotional conditions and how they are diagnosed and treated. Facing a blizzard of information about brain health discoveries in the daily media can be daunting, even for readers not worried about a possible health problem, and sifting that information to ﬁnd clear, direct answers can be tough, even for physicians. With the use of charts, sidebars, drawings, and photographs, The Dana Guide translates the latest facts about the brain and discoveries in brain science into considered conclusions and accessible language. This all-in-one resource also features a complete glossary and several appendices, among them a list of drugs used to treat the brain and nervous system, a list of resource groups and their contact information, and a section of suggested reading.
Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy
Patricia Smith Churchland, Ph.D.
The MIT Press, 2002. 438pp. $70.00 The MIT Press, 2002, 438pp. $28.00 Paper
Throughout history, philosophers have had a lot to say about the brain (René Descartes held that the body and soul were connected through the pineal gland), but that probably was because, until rather recently, there was no brain science. In the 20th century, as psychology, neurology, and other brain sciences appeared or gained momentum, philosophy turned to other matters. In 1986, when Churchland, herself an established philosopher, published Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain, most philosophers were, she writes, “initially wary (to put it politely) of the idea that neuroscience might have some relevance to the problems they call their own.” Churchland and a few others managed to secure that beachhead, however, and pushed inland. Thus, Brain-Wise enters a world where neurophilosophy is an acknowledged ﬁeld. Its deﬁning thesis is that if philosophers will pose old philosophical problems (the nature of mind, the nature of self, the nature of learning) in light of discoveries in brain and cognitive science, they will at last make genuine progress. Nonetheless, Churchland, who chairs the philosophy department at the University of California, San Diego, and has an appointment at the Salk Institute, where she works in a neuroscience laboratory, frames Brain-Wise as philosophy, not neuroscience. The book is organized around traditional domains of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, free will, and religion. The book’s diagrams and other illustrations are devoted to explaining the brain. Nobel laureate Francis Crick commented: “There is no other book quite like it. A must for every intelligent reader.”
Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain
Antonio Damasio, M.D.
Harcourt, Inc., 2003. 368pp. $28.00 Harvest Books, 2003. 368pp. $15.00 Paper
Looking for Spinoza cannot be discussed, even brieﬂy, without referring to Damasio’s two earlier books, Descartes’ Error and The Feeling of What Happens. The three books attempt no less than an examination of the role in human existence of feelings and the emotions that underlie feelings (an important Damasio distinction). Their sweeping ideas— the inseparability of feelings and cognition in rationality, how feelings form the basis of the human self, and the centrality of feelings in the biology of human survival—were taken up in turn to a growing chorus of critical acclaim from neuroscientists and a wider public. In this latest book, Damasio, professor and head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, shows us how he rediscovered the life and thought of the 17thcentury Dutch philosopher, Benedict Spinoza, whose Ethics deﬁed the life-and-death power of religion in his era in postulating the utter inseparability of mind and body. Looking for Spinoza itself is a complete work of philosophy as well as science, rooting a modern-day philosophy of human nature, the good life, and the just society in the discoveries of brain science. All of this is accomplished in a style that never loses its sense of engaging intellectual curiosity, easy command of humanistic culture, and personal charm.
Understanding Depression: What We Know and What You Can Do About It
J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., Ph.D.■, and Lesley Alan Horvitz
John Wiley & Sons/Dana Press, 2002. 304pp.
John Wiley & Sons/Dana Press, 2003. 304pp.
Raymond DePaulo, psychiatry professor and director of the Affective Mental Disorders Clinic at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is a leading authority on depression. InUnderstanding Depression, he explains how people can recognize depression in themselves or their loved ones, discusses the many factors that cause people to become depressed, and evaluates the proliferating options for treatment. He presents a similar analysis of the symptoms and causes of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). With examples from his own practice, he paints a vivid picture of how damaging depression can be for the sufferer and his family, especially when good treatment is not obtained. DePaulo calls on the latest brain research to explain what doctors and researchers really know about this debilitating disease—and in how many areas they still remain in the dark. For example, the latest discoveries in genetics and brain function, as they relate to depression, are described in clear language for the general reader. DePaulo is optimistic that most people can be helped out of their depression, but getting treatment to people, he says, requires more support for research into causes and treatment options, as well as ensuring that people with depression are identiﬁed and given appropriate care. He urges patients and the professionals helping them to realize that treatment “isn’t simply a matter of talking or taking medication. It is a process that works best as an active collaboration among the doctors (or other professionals), the patient, and the family.”
A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination
Gerald M. Edelman, M.D., Ph.D.■, and Giulio Tononi, M.D., Ph.D.
Basic Books, 2001. 288pp. $18.00 Paper
As soon as he wrapped up loose ends of his discovery of the chemical structure of antibodies, for which he shared a Nobel Prize in 1972, Gerald Edelman embarked on the toughest challenge known to science: the problem of consciousness. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer spoke of this problem as “the world knot,” the mystery of how the realms of matter and consciousness interact. Edelman has not just thought about, or even pondered, this problem; for some 25 years, he conducted scientiﬁc research on it, publishing a string of celebrated books, including Bright Air, Brilliant Fire (1992). A Universe of Consciousness, co-authored with neurobiologist Giulio Tononi, sums up and interprets these investigations in “the main outlines of a solution to the problem of consciousness.” It does so with determination to reach the lay reader, beginning the major parts of the book with prologues and the chapters with a brief introduction. The essence of the solution presented by the authors is an explanation of “the neural substrate of consciousness”—how consciousness arises as a result of particular neural processes (especially functional clusters of neuronal groups), how these processes account for key properties of consciousness, how we can understand different subjective states in neural terms, and the implications for human knowledge and experience. A review in Nature calls this “certainly highly plausible” and “one of the most ambitious accounts around.”
Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter
Barry Gordon, M.D.■, and Lisa Berger
Viking Press, 2003. 256pp. $24.95
Author Barry Gordon is professor of neurology and cognitive sciences and founder of the Memory Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. With co-author Lisa Berger, a health and medical writer, he outlines how we can make ourselves smarter by developing the mental processes that direct what he terms “intelligent memory.” Unlike what he calls our “ordinary memory,” which we use to store names, dates, facts, and where we put our car keys, intelligent memory is the engine powering our intelligence. It provides meaning and connects everything we have ever learned, making it possible for us to think creatively, anticipate problems, and infer solutions rapidly. People often attempt to improve their ordinary memory by cramming their heads with facts, but it is not as important as intelligent memory, which helps us excel at work, quickly pick up sarcasm, and “get” our friends’ jokes. According to the authors, we can improve our intelligent memory by enhancing our attention, expanding our scratch pad (or working) memory, storing more memories, building connections between memories, practicing problem solving, thinking creatively, and learning how to prevent mental mistakes. Intelligent Memory begins with a short quiz aimed at identifying which of those seven mental processes we need to focus on to become better thinkers. What follows for each mental process is an accessible explanation of the brain science behind the process and a series of memory exercises and quizzes that are challenging and fun.
Matter of Mind: A Neurologist’s View of Brain-Behavior Relationships
Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D.
Oxford University Press, 2002. 224pp. $36.50
These days, imaging technology tends to attract most of our attention when it comes to talking about how brain structure and function inﬂuence how we behave. It is fair to say, though, that most of what we know about the relationship between brain and mind and between brain and behavior comes from observing “experiments of nature.” Every part of the human brain has suffered every conceivable sort of damage—including exquisitely targeted or “focal” injury—and, by studying how mind and behavior are affected, scientists since the Greek physician Hippocrates have mapped the brain. This is the story that Kenneth Heilman, professor of neurology at the University of Florida School of Medicine, Gainesville, tells in Matter of Mind. In exceptionally lucid language, with myriad examples, he shows how lesions in the brain change—often in astonishing ways— language, emotions, attention, self-awareness, memory, cognitive-motor skills, sensory perception, and intention. What changed with the advent of neuroimaging is the ability to pinpoint these lesions in living patients, rather than having to await postmortem examination of the patient’s brain. Imaging techniques have driven a phenomenal growth in research on brain-mind relationships, not only yielding new knowledge but also making it possible to check the validity of the brain map based on centuries of lesion research. Matter of Mind supplies a large and important chapter in the brain science story. Addressing the general reader, Heilman ends each chapter with a useful summary.
Striking Back at Stroke: A Doctor-Patient Journal
Cleo Hutton and Louis R. Caplan, M.D.■
Dana Press, 2003. 240pp. $27.00
Suffering a stroke is an almost unbearable thought, quickly pushed from our minds. Suddenly, destruction spreads through the brain, closing down movement, language, vision. What will be left when it stops? In 1992, Cleo Hutton, a 43-year-old pediatric nurse, had not one but two strokes and awoke to the terror and frustration of devastated language ability, partial paralysis, damaged sight and hearing—and a panicky sense that she must not upset her children. Long before she could write again, Hutton began dictating a journal of her experiences. Journals of the experience of illness typically provide an immediacy of insight into a patient’s emotional journey, but leave readers with a host of questions: What was causing these changes? Were they typical? Why did the doctors do what they did? Hutton had all those questions herself and, as soon as she was able, turned for expert answers to Louis Caplan, M.D., a professor of neurology who is a leading clinical researcher on stroke. He responded to her letter, and they decided to collaborate. In Striking Back at Stroke, her narratives of her stroke and rehabilitation alternate with commentary by Caplan. The result is a vivid yet informed account, immediate but thoughtful, about how a patient and modern medical science together fought back against a “brain attack.”
Surprise, Uncertainty, and Mental Structures
Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.
Harvard University Press, 2002. 272pp. $32.00
No one has surpassed Harvard University psychology professor Jerome Kagan in turning the study of child development and behavior into a science. Notably, he has transformed one of the most elusive concepts of personality—temperament—into one of the most rigorously deﬁned, measured, and understood. He ﬁrst summarized that achievement and examined its implications in Galen’s Prophecy (1995). But, with each new book (he is proliﬁc), he elaborates his discoveries and, in doing so, raises basic questions about the ideas, assumptions, and methodology of psychology. In Surprise, Uncertainty, and Mental Structures, Kagan asks whether any single type of mental operation (for example, behavioral conditioning, imagery, or concepts in words) can account for the wide diversity of human behavior, thought, and emotion. To ﬁnd such a unifying mental operation has been the dream of psychologists, but Kagan argues that new evidence has always upset their neat explanations. He argues for the existence of at least two basically different modes of mental operation, which he calls “schemata” (roughly, picturing things) and “semantic networks” (roughly, putting things in words). Kagan shows how surprise, which is crucial to his explanation of temperament, is characteristically evoked by events inconsistent with our schemata (for example, the image of a child without arms). Our response to analogous inconsistency on the linguistic level (for example, a violation of logic), however, is uncertainty. Failing to admit differing types of mental operation has tended to force psychologists to recognize only phenomena consistent with a preferred mental structure— and so to live with a lengthening list of irreconcilable observations. Kagan cites experimental evidence for the basic distinction between schemata and semantic networks and shows how the distinction illuminates thinking about psychological development, creativity, and personality measurement and theory. This tour de force of analysis is primarily addressed to his colleagues, but it is readable by anyone who appreciates watching a ﬁrst-rate scientiﬁc mind at work.
Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D.
Viking Press, 2002. 406 pp. $29.95 Penguin USA, 2003. 416pp. $16.00 Paper
Joseph LeDoux, a New Yorker who is professor of science at New York University’s Center for Neural Sciences, turns to one of Wall Street’s favorite expressions in summarizing his theme: “The bottom-line point of this book is ‘You are your synapses.’” It is a provocatively reductionist credo, stated in the book’s ﬁrst sentence. One of neuroscience’s current obsessions, he says, is to explain how consciousness is possible; but, if we knew how the brain made us conscious, what would that tell us about our self, our personality? Far more illuminating, he argues, would be to know how our brains—in particular, the inconceivably complex “connectivity” of brain cells at many levels—make possible who we are. For LeDoux, “the self is the totality of what an organism is physically, biologically, psychologically, socially, and culturally” and therefore the real job of the book is to “relate this constellation...to the systems and synapses of the brain.” To do this, The Synaptic Self turns to a vast array of brain science, including the research that LeDoux reported in The Emotional Brain (1996), the book that propelled him to stardom as a neuroscientist and as an interpreter of neuroscience to the public. Both books are acclaimed for the quality of their science, insights into human nature, and literary style.
Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing
Margaret Livingstone, Ph.D.
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002. 208pp. $45.00
Advances in brain science and the invention of new brain-imaging tools during the past half century have enabled us to understand how information (or what will become information) gets from our eyes to our brain. By applying this new knowledge of our visual system to the visual arts, Vision and Art explains many of the artist’s “tricks” and deepens our appreciation for art both classic and modern. Margaret Livingstone, a neurobiologist at Harvard University, has researched vision—speciﬁcally movement, depth perception, color, and form—for more than two decades. In an easy-to-follow format, she begins with basic reviews of the principles of light and the structure of the vertebrate eye. She then explains how we process color and luminance (lightness), the visual “what and where” system, and other aspects of how we see, referring to various engaging experiments to demonstrate her points. She then applies this knowledge to well-known works of art. For example, how do acuity and spatial resolution explain why da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has such a mysterious smile? How did Michelangelo’s manipulation of luminance achieve such striking depth in his Doni Holy Family? In all, Vision and Art features more than 150 reproductions of art and colorful scientiﬁc diagrams, all accompanied by ample sidebar information on both the science and the artist’s technique.
I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self
Rodolfo R. Llin
The MIT Press, 2001. 264pp. $45.00 The MIT Press, 2002. 314pp. $17.95 Paper
Rodolfo Llinás, professor of neuroscience and chairman of the department of physiology and neuroscience, New York University School of Medicine, characterizes his book as “a personal view of neuroscience” from the perspective of “a single-cell physiologist interested in neuronal integration and synaptic transmission.” To take the second characterization ﬁrst, Llinás is much more than “interested” in neuronal integration; he shaped modern neuroscience’s very concept of brain function in terms of how the electrical oscillation of groups of neurons gives rise to cognition. In I of the Vortex, his “personal view of neuroscience” is a sweeping integration of this cell-level perspective with insights at levels from the molecular to the technologic-social. The result is a new theory of the nature of the mind, which, as Llinás views it, evolved to enable living creatures to succeed in their environment through being able to predict—the ultimate brain function. Thus, I of the Vortex summarizes for the general reader Llinás’s seminal contributions to understanding electrical oscillation in the brain and the interactions of various brain structures. At the same time, however, it is a meditation on what these ideas can imply for emotions, the nature of consciousness, and language. A ﬁnal chapter speculates on how “mindedness” might exist outside the biological brain—in machines, for example, or even in a vast collective consciousness emerging on the Internet.
The End of Stress as We Know It
Bruce McEwen, Ph.D.■, with Elizabeth N. Lasley
Dana Press/Joseph Henry Press, 2002. 285pp. $27.95
Dana Press/Joseph Henry Press, 2004. 262pp. $19.95 Paper
In the United States, it is estimated that upward of $200 billion is spent annually on stress-related illnesses. Considering that our stress reaction, also known as the ﬁght-or-ﬂight response, evolved to help us in emergencies, why does it also cause so much harm? Bruce McEwen, head of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at Rockefeller University, and his co-author have written an absorbing and understandable book to explain the paradox. They use the term allostasis to describe what happens when our brain perceives danger and temporarily mobilizes our endocrine and immune systems to transfer power to where it is needed. Although this reaction is normal, sometimes the process gets stuck in the “on” position, and the stress response turns on us, causing damage and accelerating illness. This chronic stress is called allostatic load. Is it a necessary, indeed inevitable, consequence of our fast-paced and hectic lifestyle? McEwen urges us to realize that, although some events and situations that activate the stress response are unavoidable, becoming “stressed out” is neither normal nor necessary. Drawing on 50 years of research by many scientists, he carefully maps the relationship between brain functions and stress responses, and tells us how we can make ourselves more resilient to stress. The authors write: “The balance is restored not by plunging into a short-lived program...but by gradually and permanently building in new habits based on an understanding of how brain and body work.”
Memory and Emotion: The Making of Lasting Memories
James L. McGaugh, Ph.D.
Columbia University Press, 2003. 192pp. $24.50
James McGaugh is professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, and director of its Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. For ﬁve decades, he pioneered in memory research, including studies showing how emotional arousal activates stress hormones that, in turn, stimulate a brain system that regulates consolidation of recently acquired information. This process helps explain why we tend to remember emotionally charged events, but also why experiences that involve intense emotional arousal can set the stage for the powerful, persistent, and unwanted memories that characterize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In other words, a little stress can be helpful, but too much can leave the mind haunted. Given the size of his contribution to the ﬁeld, McGaugh has written an admirably short book, but he still manages to discuss the history of memory research, recent major discoveries, the molecular biological processes underlying formation of long-term memories, new ideas about PTSD, and more. All of it is conveyed in an engaging and personable way, so that we get to know a bit of the man, as well as his work. This is as good a recent short introduction as you will ﬁnd to the neurobiology of memory. An impressive lineup of top memory researchers around the world praise both its accuracy and readability.
Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill?
Jonathan H. Pincus, M.D.
W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 256pp. $25.95
W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. 239pp. $14.95 Paper
Few readers will be surprised at the author’s answer to this book’s title question: “There was a strong tie between violent behavior and neurological abnormalities, paranoid thoughts, and the experience of severe, prolonged, physical abuse.” More surprising is the consistency with which Pincus (chief of neurology at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC, and professor of neurology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine) discovered these factors at work in all killers he studied, regardless of the classiﬁcation of the killing: serial, premeditated, rational, impulsive, or political-genocidal. Pincus ﬁrst posed his question 25 years ago and has since examined more than 150 murderers on death row, in locked psychiatric wards, and in prisons. With clinical precision and detachment, he tells the stories of their crimes and their own childhood abuse (it is difﬁcult to say which is more shocking) and gives his diagnosis and interpretation. A concluding chapter proposes treatment and prevention; an appendix describes his method of diagnosis, including the interview, physical examination, and use of imaging technology. Consistently ﬁnding his basic causal factors at work, Pincus then confronts the question of moral responsibility and punishment. His response is that few killers are so neurologically damaged as to be automatons; punishment is necessary and appropriate, but so is treatment.
Why We See What We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision
Dale Purves, M.D.■, and
R. Beau Lotto, Ph.D.
Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2003. 260pp. $44.95 Paper
Do we see the world as it really is? Is what we perceive an accurate reconstruction of what is there at the moment we view it? Most modern theories of vision assume that the answer is yes. To make this possible, visual neurons detect and encode the information received from the retinal image; once these nuggets of observation are transferred to the brain, speciﬁc brain areas decode the information, constructing inside the brain an accurate representation of the external environment. But, argue the authors of Why We See What We Do, the problem with this assumption is that we cannot know the speciﬁc source of any retinal stimulus. Drawing on much of their own individual research, Dale Purves, professor of psychological and brain sciences and the chairman of the department of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, and Beau Lotto, lecturer at University College London in the Institute of Ophthalmology’s vision research department, created a new theory of vision. In actuality, they say, retinal stimuli trigger a reﬂex response in our brains. What we experience when we see is shaped by what this stimulus has come to signify in the past. Although their subject involves fairly complex science, the authors use chapter introductions and summaries, a complete glossary, and more than 100 diagrams to translate the complexities into an understandable argument.
Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are
Steven R. Quartz, Ph.D., and Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D.■
William Morrow, 2002. 352pp. $26.95 Quill, 2003. 352pp. $13.95 Paper
Our brain’s unique ability to reﬂect on yesterday and contemplate tomorrow creates in us a sense of self and impels us to search for answers to the most human of questions: Who are we? Why do we love, and hate? Why do we sometimes lay down our lives for others? Why do we sometimes kill? To answer these questions, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes calls on recent advances in brain imaging, computer modeling, and genetics, as well as historical and contemporary theories of philosophy, psychology, politics, and sociology. The authors call their new product “cultural biology,” an explanation of our brains and our behavior as a complex blend of biological and cultural forces, an “ever-evolving product of a dynamic interplay between your history and your biology.” The co-authors are Terrence J. Sejnowski, professor of biology, physics, and neuroscience and director of the Institute of Neural Computation, University of California, San Diego (and director of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute in La Jolla), and Steven R. Quartz, assistant professor and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. On a range of topics, including sex, learning, violence, and happiness, the authors provide an accessible account of how our brains and our world engage, excite, and alter each other. In a ﬁnal chapter that focuses on challenges of our high-tech, globalized society, they urge us to apply an understanding gleaned from brain science to creating and sustaining a culture that meets our brain’s basic needs.
Mysteries of the Mind
National Geographic, 2000. 224pp. $35.00
The Secret Life of the Brain
Joseph Henry Press/Dana Press, 2001. 201pp. $35.00
Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential
Harmony Books, 2001. 224pp. $22.00 Three Rivers Press, 2002. 224pp. $12.00 Paper
The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind
Rodale Press. 2003. 228pp. $23.95
(all) Richard Restak, M.D.
Richard Restak, professor of neurology at George Washington University Medical Center, practices neurology and neuropsychiatry in Washington, DC. He is a popular and obviously proliﬁc author of brain books that have gone far in setting the standard for communicating complex neurologic research in comprehensible, engaging language. Mysteries of the Mind takes readers on a tour of the brain, using drawings and illustrations to explore its structure and operation, particularly in sleep, memory, and emotion. Restak continues to elucidate this awesome potential in The Secret Life of the Brain, a companion volume to the Emmy-winning PBS series of that name, in which he draws on interviews and clinical research to explore life’s ﬁve stages of brain development, emphasizing the brain’s remarkable resilience. Can we make ourselves smarter? Restak suggests in Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot that a good grasp of how your brain works can even make you more intelligent. (The New York Times called Mozart’s Brain a “personal trainer for your brain.”) With more than 20 exercises intended to improve memory, creativity, and concentration (by increasing neuronal linkages), this best-selling guide promises to enhance your cognitive capabilities now and into old age. Finally, in his most recent book, Restak looks at the progress brain science has made in just the past two decades. In this era of The New Brain, we have available the latest imaging techniques to enable us to watch the brain as it thinks, decides, and acts. Restak contends that other new technologies will become important in shaping the further evolution of our brains.
The Seven Sins of Memory
(How the Mind Forgets and Remembers)
Daniel L. Schacter, Ph.D.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. 270pp. $25.00 Mariner Books, 2002. 288pp. $14.00 Paper
Daniel Schacter, chairman of psychology at Harvard University, has written ﬁve books on memory, the focus of his research for some 20 years. Much has changed over that time. The workings of memory in the brain were investigated down to the level of the cell,
gene, and molecule; distinct types of memory (such as working memory and long-term memory) were identiﬁed; and the brain was caught in the act of memory by functional magnetic resonance imaging and other neuroimaging technology. Another change was the ﬂood of books on memory, so that today an author must ﬁnd a new angle. Schacter’s angle is “the nature of memory’s imperfections” and how we can reduce or avoid the harm they do. Schacter calls his schema for these imperfections the “seven sins of memory”: transience, absentmindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. Like moral sins, Schacter argues, these transgressions of memory are excesses of otherwise adaptive, useful features of our minds. This engaging perspective on memory, sure to catch the attention of aging Baby Boomers, becomes the framework for Schacter’s commanding overview of what science has learned about memory as a psychological, neurobiological, and practical function of mind, one that (as Schacter illustrates with many fascinating examples) affects our lives in areas from politics and criminal law to marriage.
Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at any Level
Sally Shaywitz, M.D.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 416pp. $25.95
Among teachers, school administrators, and parents who struggle to help children with dyslexia to become successful readers, Sally Shaywitz is something of a household name. For more than two decades, she has been a trusted authority and ally, bringing new knowledge, advice, and hope from the world of brain research, where understanding of reading and dyslexia are increasing at a near-explosive pace. For some ﬁve million American children who are dyslexic and, thus, at risk of reading failure, a reliable road to success now exists. “Reading and dyslexia are no longer a mystery; we now know what to do,” writes Shaywitz. In Overcoming Dyslexia, she provides a comprehensive source of information and guidance, answering questions she has heard in years on the lecture circuit. All three sections of the book—on the nature of dyslexia, its diagnosis, and how to overcome it—are enlivened with personal stories from Shaywitz’s work with students, teachers, and parents. They, in turn, made Overcoming Dyslexia a runaway bestseller in its ﬁeld, going through printing after printing. Demand for the book reﬂects, in Shaywitz’s words, “the enormous chasm that exists between what we are learning in the laboratory and what is being applied in the classroom.” Shaywitz is professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine and co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention.
Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix
Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 226pp. $26.00 Vintage Books, 2003. 336pp. $14.00 Paper
A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes, and Society
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2000.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2001.
266pp. $15.00 Paper
James D. Watson, Ph.D.
DNA: The Secret of Life
Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 464pp. $39.95 Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 464pp. $24.95 Paper
James D. Watson, Ph.D.■, with Andrew Berry
Between 2000 and 2003, James Watson published three books. One speciﬁcally marked the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA, for which he and Francis Crick won a Nobel Prize in 1953, but, in a sense, all three books are about DNA, its discovery, and the aftermath. Genes, Girls, and Gamow is far and away the most personal, with the characteristic Watson honesty, unadorned assessments of individuals, and unabashed assumption that we are all “bright” here. This is the story of what Watson did for a second act, after DNA and world celebrity. Working with Crick, at times, but also with many others, he pursued the puzzle of how the genetic information encoded within DNA is translated “into the language of proteins, the molecular workhorses of all living cells.” In other words, he turned his attention to the still-mysterious molecule called ribonucleic acid (RNA). Only 25 and already a world-renowned scientist, Watson also wanted a wife. Both quests succeeded, as told here. The role of RNA is now well understood, and Watson has been married for more than 30 years to Elizabeth Lewis. The hugely talented Russian-émigré scientist, George Gamow, is mentioned in the book’s title because he was one of the most inﬂuential of the scientists with whom Watson worked and socialized during the years of unraveling RNA. A Passion for DNA is a collection of Watson’s essays, most of which are his introductions to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s annual reports, in which Watson commented on scientiﬁc advances that were taking place during his 30 years as director and later president of the Laboratory, one of the world’s foremost in molecular biology. DNA: The Secret of Life, co-authored with Andrew Berry, a writer and teacher of genetics, is a big book with full-color illustrations that tells the story of DNA. But scientists do not view it as a “coffee table book”; the consensus is that the book is vintage Watson in style and intellectual level, giving him the opportunity to comment on the signiﬁcance of molecular biology over half a century and where we might be going with it. Add to these three volumes Watson’s much earlier book, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (1968), and you have a compact library on the life and thought of a revered ﬁgure in the history of science.
Parkinson’s Disease: A Complete Guide for Patients & Families
William J. Weiner, M.D., Lisa M. Shulman, M.D., and Anthony E. Lang, M.D.■
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 272pp. $62.00
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 272pp. $16.95 Paper
Up to a million people in North America are afﬂicted with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, progressive, degenerative brain disorder. The average age at which Parkinson’s is diagnosed is 60. Because the symptoms, particularly problems with movement, worsen only gradually—and because much-improved treatments can help to control them—the challenge for patients is to live with the disease as long and healthfully as possible. This book by three neurologists (two American, one Canadian) with long experience in caring for patients with Parkinson’s offers a straightforward, comprehensive guide to doing just that. Although scientists know the locus of Parkinson’s in two small areas of the brain called the substantia nigra, where neurons die until the symptoms of Parkinson’s begin to appear, the cause of degeneration of the neurons remains a mystery. Diagnosis of the disease can be complex, because it resembles other disorders, and each stage as the disease progresses involves different and worsening problems. Treatments developed over the past three decades make the prospects for the patient far better but also offer many options to be considered. All of these issues, and more, are addressed by the authors in well-organized sections that are written in exceptionally clear, unaffected prose. The ﬁnal chapter reiterates by posing commonly asked questions and giving succinct answers. The goal, until the cause and cure of Parkinson’s are discovered, is to empower patients and their families to become involved in treatment, understand that living well is still possible, and maintain the sense of control crucial to living with an incurable and ultimately fatal brain disorder.