Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Secret World of the Brain - Catherine Loveday ****

I tend to be a little wary of highly illustrated books like this, as often they can be a matter of style over substance, but The Secret World of the Brain has plenty of text content to accompany the detailed colour pictures, and Catherine Loveday packs in plenty of valuable and up-to-date information on the human brain, with a few 'users manual' elements (e.g. how to get to sleep) but mostly simply exploring and explaining what we know and don't know about the brain (and to some extent the nervous system too).

There are wide ranging sections, from very broad description to brain functions and memory through to very specific chapters on, for instance, the brain and music, why we cry at films and laugh at jokes and altered states of consciousness. If I have any criticism it's that some of these sections (for example the altered states one) felt a bit 'so what?', while I was disappointed that there wasn't a section on creativity, innovation and ideas, my personal specific interest in the brain - the closest we got was 'music in the brain', but this was all about the impact of music, rather than composing.

I particularly enjoyed the little 'myth buster' boxes, taking on the likes of the 10% used brain, people's belief that memories are accurate representations and the suggestion that women are less aggressive than men. (There's a whole section, in fact, on 'are female brains different from male brains?')

With the exception of the gap on creativity, I felt that Loveday got the balance just right - the book is detailed enough to give sufficient depth to get a working appreciation of what's going on with this immensely complex organ, but the text never feels as if it's overloaded with jargon. It's approachable without ever being condescending.

The full price is on the expensive side for what it is, but at the time of writing it has a good discount. If you want a good, modern primer on the human brain, we've now got an excellent recommendation.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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