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Brain Architecture: Understanding the Basic Plan (Medicine) [Paperback]

Larry W. Swanson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 31, 2002 0195105052 978-0195105056 1
Depending on your point of view the brain is an organ, a machine, a biological computer, or simply the most important component of the nervous system. How does it work as a whole? What are its major parts and how are they interconnected to generate thinking, feelings, and behavior? This book surveys 2,500 years of scientific thinking about these profoundly important questions from the perspective of fundamental architectural principles, and then proposes a new model for the basic plan of neural systems organization based on an explosion of structural data emerging from the neuroanatomy revolution of the 1970's
The importance of a balance between theoretical and experimental morphology is stressed throughout the book. Great advances in understanding the brain's basic plan brain have come especially from two traditional lines of biological thought- evolution and embryology, because each begins with the simple and progresses to the more complex. Understanding the organization of brain circuits, which contain thousands of links or pathways, is much more difficult. It is argued here that a four-system network model can explain the structure-function organization of the brain. Possible relationships between neural networks and gene networks revealed by the human genome project are explored in the final chapter.
The book is written in clear and sparkling prose, and it is profusely illustrated. It is designed to be read by anyone with an interest in the basic organization of the brain, from neuroscience to philosophy to computer science to molecular biology. It is suitable for use in neuroscience core courses because it presents basic principles of the structure of the nervous system in a systematic way.

Editorial Reviews


"Larry Swanson, one of the great contemporary students of brain anatomy, has given us a broad overview of the structure and function of the brain using insights from embryology and from evolutionary comparison to highlight the principles that govern the anatomical substrates of behavior. This book will be read avidly by both students and practicing scientists."--Eric R. Kandel, M. D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine

"Neuroanatomy is usually associated with boring memorization and dense terminology. But Swanson has brought the subject to life by focusing on the principles that underlie brain structure and function. These principles, illuminated by an historical perspective and placed in an evolutionary context, actually constitute a theory of brain. This book's logical organization, intellectual sweep, and clear writing made it a joy for me to read."--Charles F. Stevens, M.D., Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences

"I was pleasantly surprised by the comparative and evolutionary approach used to introduce the major concepts, and I was drawn in by the historical context in which the story is told...a clearly written and logically organized overview of the major functional subdivisions of the vertebrate nervous system, accompanied by a commentary on historical views of brain function. It will be a welcome addition to the libraries of students and anyone interested in the basic organization of the brain."--Nature Neuroscience

"Brain architecture reeks of complicated neuroanatomy, an obtuse nomenclature, and little function; but Brain Architecture is different. To provide readers with an elementary knowledge of the nervous system, Larry Swanson combines a historical and a broad, comparative biological approach." --Science

"This short book deserves wide readership. It could serve both as a general introduction for the undergraduate and as a means to widen one's horizon for the experienced researcher."--Jan Voogd in Science

About the Author

Larry W. Swanson is at University of Southern California.

Product Details

  • Series: Medicine
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195105052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195105056
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short, Good Book on Brain Structure September 19, 2005
I bought this book to refresh and update what I know about brain structure so I could better understand current neuroscience findings. Overall, I am happy with the outcome.

Swanson is a recognized authority on neural structures. He writes clearly and communicates a palpable excitement as he describes fundamental insights into brain organization and function. I particularly liked the way he presents the key historic developments that led to current views. Swanson also has the expert's appreciation of where theories are solid and where contemporary understanding is seriously lacking. In fact, one important message of the book is that the field still has only a tenuous grasp of many structural details about the brain, not to mention major uncertainties about connections between structure and function.

I did not give the book the highest rating for two reasons. First, the material on the cognitive system omitted discussion of areas that are important in contemporary memory research such as the amygdala, the rhinal cortex, and the cingulate gyrus. Swanson uses different terminology to describe these and other areas, believing that the traditional terms are unnecessary and should be abandoned. While improved classification schemes are to be applauded, contemporary researchers continue to use the traditional terms. I would have liked more help to bridge the terminology disconnect.

My second complaint is that a number of terms he does use are undefined both in the text and in the skimpy glossary. This material is hard enough when you have all the definitions and descriptions.

But I want to end a positive note. The book is well written, short, focused, engaging, and helpful in understanding brain structure. Maybe that's as good as it gets for a work on neuroanatomy written for non specialists.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book for serious neuroscientists October 30, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be stimulating, informing, and very readable. Larry shows his mastery of brain organisation by distilling reams of detail into instructive paragraphs. This is one of the most interesting neuroscience books I have read. It is a must buy for graduate students in mammalian neuroscience. Congratualtions Larry!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
As in Larry Swanson's writing is usual, he wrote an amazing book, where you will find in 200s pages an overview of the neuroanatomical knowledge that it is available nowadays. Besides, he offers an outstanding revision of the neural systems that are present from unicellular organisms to vertebrates.
In summary, in my opinion this is a very recommendable book for anyone interested in neuroscience.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Needs more diagrams, images and discursive flair September 11, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Often the fit between research scholarship and effective writing skills is difficult to achieve. This book is an example of that unevenness that really should be caught by a good editor. Personally I found the text educational, interesting and peppered with historical gems that some lent anecdotal dynamism to the work. However, the illustrations are largly drawn from historical works, which is quaint but not particularly helpful given modern research requirements. The diagrams in the book are uninspiring grayscale shapes. I didn't find them informative.

The book really kicks off in Chapter 4, The Basic Vertebrate Plan. Disappointingly, Swanson's potentially mouth opening discussion of four rival brain architectures is too abrupt and tails off into vagueness. Its overall tenor is not helped by very plain diagrams of their components. The upside is that he covers the evolution in historical thought very well - of interest to any historian of science. Given my needs (computational modelling) the book was very adequate but only because I had already tucked From Neuron to Brain under my belt a few months previously.

The first few chapters cover neuroembryogenesis and the theories of neural plate development. After that, the book takes off through the vertebrate brain and four main systems (behaviour, motor, cognitive and sensory). it concludes with a brief chapter on learning and damage repair. The book drives home some points clearly and simply, such as the separate development of motor and sensory ganglion cirucits. Sometimes the descriptions are clouded by the author's view that conventional descriptors in human anatomy are the wrong way round (or just plain wrong).
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