Skip to main content

Smarter: the new science of building brain power – Dan Hurley ****

The knee-jerk reaction on seeing this book was ‘it’s going to be rubbish’, as it is widely publicised that most commercial ‘brain training’ products have no more value than any activity that keeps the mind active, from reading a book to chatting to a next-door neighbour. And while an active mind is valuable in keeping alert in old age, it gives no advantages in terms of ‘brain power’ whether you  consider that as IQ or something a bit more subtle.
In fact, I needn’t have worried, because Dan Hurley is aware of this, and is approaching a very specific aspect of training, using an intense methodology, which has shown some interesting results in proper scientific testing.
Along the way, he decides to see if he can enhance his own brain, so takes a MENSA test, then engages in as many brain enhancing activities as he can before being re-tested – from physical exercise to a nicotine patch – which have been shown to have some benefit in mental acuity. Perhaps the most interesting bit of the book is where he assesses all the different possibilities, dismissing some (eating the right thing, apart from drinking coffee, for instance) and taking others on board, all based on our best current science.
Another favourite is the final section, where we see played out a significant battle between academics, some sticking to the traditional argument that all training does is train you to be better at that particular test, some open to a wide range of possibilities. It’s interesting, apart from anything else, to show just how different theories are sometimes handled in the academic community.
The only part of the book I felt didn’t quite work was a longish section on Down’s syndrome, not because it wasn’t important or interesting, but because it didn’t quite fit with everything else, centred around Hurley’s personal test, and the result was that overall the book’s structure seemed a little haphazard.
As long as you don’t object too much to the author’s slightly patronising magazine writer’s style, that makes him feel the urge to put in a number of unnecessary personal descriptions (take for instance ‘Tall, blond and good-looking: in another words, a typical Swiss’), this should prove a fascinating read on a truly interesting topic.
Hardback:  
Kindle:  
Paperback from March 2015:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…