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The Brain Book – Rita Carter ****

This is a strange book, using a children’s book format for a serious subject. It has Dorling Kindersley’s usual format of splitting a topic up into two page spreads, which are highly illustrated and filled with little items – an approach that tends to be thought of as best for children – and applies it to the ‘structure, function and disorders’ of the brain.
Given that incongruity it really shouldn’t work as a serious adult title – but it is surprisingly good. It’s easy to get sucked in and just read one more page. The format is still highly inferior to a ‘proper’ book for the pure popular science delight of sitting down to a good read about a science subject. The book can’t flow the way it should with this layout, and the pictures and bitty structure just get in the way – but even so, the content is sufficiently good that it overcomes the format and still works as a popular science title.
As you move through the book you will pick up information on the structure of the brain and how it fits into the body’s mechanisms, the senses, movement and control, emotions, social behaviour, language, memory, intelligence, creativity, consciousness and oddities of the brain. Although the illustrations are just too much for me, and can see many would appreciate the mix of powerful colour photographs and classy graphics. It’s often in the little details that Rita Carter triumphs, when she catches your attention with some little fact that entertains. And to balance out the heavier sections there are items, for instance, on cognitive illusions that provide a little extra fun.
The other problem from the point of view of this being a reading book, rather than a picture book is the sheer weight of the thing. After holding it five minutes my wrists were aching. It weighs in at a pretty massive 1.6 kilos. I also couldn’t really see the point of the section on disorders at the back – it was much too technical for the ordinary reader, but too simplistic for the professional. The blurb says it’s ‘an essential manual for students and healthcare professionals’ as well as being a reference for the family, but somehow I can’t see many healthcare professionals tucking into a Dorling Kindersley illustrated guide to their subject.
All-in-all, then, something of an oddity that works despite itself. If you want to know about the brain and how it works it’s highly recommended.

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Review by Jo Reed

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