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We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's 1st Edition

51 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812992960
ISBN-10: 0812992962
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The human brain weighs a modest three pounds and has an energy consumption equivalent to a lowly 15-watt electric lightbulb. But it also comprises 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) and boasts amazingly complex hard-wiring (1,000 times 1 billion neuronal connections). Dutch physician and neuroscientist Swaab artfully explains how the organ’s design and functioning are a biological masterpiece as well as the source of our mind and identity. Brain research is genuinely a quest to find ourselves. Swaab probes the normal psychology, anatomy, and physiology of the brain—early development, intelligence, memory, moral behavior, neurochemistry, and consciousness. He also explores how the brain malfunctions—autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, anorexia nervosa, vegetative states, and dementia. When it comes to love and sex, the brain is clearly the boss: Sex starts and ends in the brain, Swaab writes. The brain provides orgasm as a reward. He describes Alzheimer’s disease as a demolition of the brain and the sport of boxing as neuropornography. The most interesting and controversial chapter is Neurotheology: The Brain and Religion. Here he postulates that praying might be a placebo for oneself and notes that the score for spirituality matches up with the quantity of serotonin receptors in the brain. Swaab’s neurobiography is witty, opinionated, passionate, and, above all, cerebral. --Tony Miksanek


“Swaab’s ‘neurobiography’ is witty, opinionated, passionate, and, above all, cerebral.”Booklist (starred review)
“A fascinating survey . . . Swaab employs both personal and scientific observation in near-equal measure.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A cogent, provocative account of how twenty-first-century ‘neuroculture’ has the potential to effect profound medical and social change.”Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812992962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812992960
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
DF Swaab's book on the brain is a revelation. He uses this lifelong passion for neurology to strip away the falsehoods. The details of the state of our knowledge is up to the minute, right from the front lines of research. It's a breeze to read, but it's still a tough slog. It's not filled with overwhelming five dollar words, but there is so much to absorb in every paragraph, I found myself constantly going back to make sure I got it all and got it right. Its importance to everyday understanding of ourselves is towering.

The book is structured along the lines of life, from conception to death and all the different ways the brain performs at the various stages. And it is demonstrably different at every age. The description of the unborn's connection to the mother's brain is alone worth the price of admission.

I particularly appreciated Swaab's debunking of "pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo" such as homosexuality being a chosen, learned, environmental condition (including overbearing, dominant mothers), or any number of other diseases and conditions that are also entirely programmed before birth and develop later. Environment can make absolutely no difference, he says.

The brain is not fully formed at birth and doesn't reach its full size, shape and structure until our mid 20s. It does continue to grow, it can repair itself and it does compensate for damage, despite our being taught that we peak at age 16 and brain cells just die off from that point and are never replaced.

Another "fact" we have backwards is that difficult births cause brain development problems. Swaab shows it is precisely the other way around: difficult labor/births are consequences of brain development problems.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gene Sandow on February 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Dr.Swaab must be congratulated for producing an easy to understand book about how the brain works, and disorders that affect the brain. He writes in a clear, interesting and non-technical style, and his use of many anecdotes makes the reading not only informative, but entertaining. However, I do have to agree with another reviewer, who noted that Swaab often repeats himself throughout the text.Whoever proof-read this book did a poor job. But my major disagreement with what's written in the book is Swaab's contention that sports activity is not only unhealthy, but also shortens lifespan. By extension, this would also include exercise. Such as view is not only nonsensical, but differs from prevailing research on the subject. Swaab doesn't seem to realize that the majority of people in nursing homes are there because they are too feeble to take care of themselves. They have suffered a major loss of muscle known as "sarcopenia." This loss of lean mass alone is linked to higher mortality. In addition, aerobic exercise is known to significantly boost levels of a protein called BDNF, which functions to both repair and maintain brain neurons. This also is decreased with age and inactivity. People who exercise regularly show a 50% decreased incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Speaking of which, that's my other beef with this book. Dr.Swaab implies that Alzheimer's disease (AD) is just a manifestation of rapid brain aging. This, in turn, suggests that anyone who lives long enough will eventually get AD. This just isn't true. AD is a pathological condition, not a normal response to aging.The oldest confirmed human on record, Jean Calmet, who died at age 122,underwent through neurological testing at age 115.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Davepl on August 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Very good book, so long as you're able to overlook the anti-American Eurocentric bashing and not let it ruin your enjoyment. It's not often a science book will contain the phrase "a typical aberration of the Christian community in America". Which is not to say I disagree with the point he is making in most of those cases, he's just harsh. Lot of mockery of the anti-science agenda of Americans in general, conservatives, Christians, and so on. Sort of a mini-Dawkins (also a great pop science biologist who wades into politics and theology too often).

My other reservation is the lack of references or footnotes. There is no bibliography nor even suggested reading. This isn't problematic until he references an important or provocative claim as if it were fact. I realize it's 'only' pop science, but even so it would be nice to be able to look up certain issues to support his point or to learn more about them. You'll hear about "studies" that support his claims, but the studies go unnamed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's by D.F. Swaab

"We Are Our Brains" is a fantastic biography of the human brain. Dutch physician and neuroscientist D.F. Swaab takes the readers on a tour of the brain's design and functionality. With a great grasp of this captivating topic and direct frankness the author proceeds to cover a wide spectrum of interesting topics pertaining to the brain. This fascinating 448-page book includes the following twenty-one chapters: 1. Development, Birth and Parental Care, 2. Threats to the Fetal Brain in the "Safety" of the Womb, 3. Sexual Differentiation of the Brain in the Womb, 4. Puberty, Love, and Sexual Behavior, 5. Hypothalmus: Survival, Hormones, and Emotions, 6. Addictive Substances, 7. The Brain and Consciousness, 8. Aggression, 9. Autism, 1o. Schizophrenia and other Reasons for Hallucinations, 11. Repair and Electric Stimulation, 12. The Brain and Sports, 13. Moral Behavior, 14. Memory, 15. Neurotheology: The Brain and Religion, 16. There Isn't More Between Heaven and Earth, 17. Free Will, A Pleasant Illusion, 18. Alzheimer's Disease, 19. Death, 20. Evolution, and 21. Conclusions.

1. Well researched, well written and a much more engaging book than is the norm for this genre.
2. Neuroscience is one the most fascinating topics out there and this book is in the hands of a master. Brain candy.
3. Covers a lot of great topics within neuroscience and it does so very well.
4. The main theme of this book is how the brain works. From the author, "That's a conundrum that has yet to be fully solved, and this book can of course provide only a partial answer.
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