Customer Reviews: Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science
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on November 5, 2001
At some point in my life, much of what Sagan wrote became "common knowledge" and much less interesting to read, because I stopped learning from him.
Then I realized: he had done his job. Sagan excited me, thrilled me, MADE me go out and learn more because I couldn't stand not knowing.
Carl Sagan was a master at distilling science to the masses; he made physics, biology, cosmology, math...he made it all so thrilling that the masses barely knew they were learning.
If you're not already a Sagan fan, try starting with his fiction (Contact--the book is a thousand times better than the movie), and then moving on to his nonfiction. You'll discover from Sagan why we are where and who we are.
Read it. Learn it. Then outgrow it. You'll be honoring Sagan, and you'll be honoring your own humanity.
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on December 17, 1998
Carl Sagan established his reputation as a writer with three works: Cosmos, Broca's Brain, and Contact. Cosmos is renowned as one of the century's best non-fiction works and Contact became a top-grossing, award-winning film. Broca's Brain meets the standard of Sagan's more famous pieces. Even were you to only read one chapter, the book would still be worth purchase. I especially recommend this book to those who have read John F. Haught (theologian) or Stephen Hawking (physicist) and assume that science and religion are locked in a death match.
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on July 15, 2000
The chapter entitled "Venus and Dr. Velikovsky" is a masterpiece of pseudo-science debunking. Sagan rightly deplores efforts by mainstream scientists to suppress Velikovsky, both because they were dishonest, and because (as noted by another reviewer) they made Velikovsky a martyr when he might otherwise just have been forgotten. Sagan's dissection of Velikovsky's thesis is painfully specific, precise, methodical, exhaustively researched, utterly polite, and totally relentless. This is the way to take on pseudo-science: with not a trace of snobbery or arrogance, but with simple, devastating logic.
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VINE VOICEon July 9, 2007
Most of us who have been educated in the American public school system quickly learned to dread science classes as one of the more boring times of the day. The study of science class in elementary school was usually a teacher reading the text and often being reluctant to address any questions that were not covered in the teacher's edition. In high school the teacher (often hired more for their coaching expertise than academic considerations) would assign reading from the text and not welcome questions not covered in the teacher's edition. Learning was considered accomplished when the students could relate facts memorized from the text. Along the way most of us lost the desire to ask 'why' and simply calculated the time until we could escape as we memorized what was necessary to pass the next test.

Dr Sagan has managed to make science interesting again, to awaken the spark of curiosity that has sadly been extinguished in so many. His writing is clear and eloquent as he invites his readers to share his love of asking 'why?' He explains how scientists look at problems, how to question authorities and determine their worth. In short he manages to undo some of the damage inflicted by years of boring science classes.

This is a compilation of articles Sagan wrote for various magazines (including PLAYBOY - maybe sometimes it was purchased for the articles) during the mid to late 70's. The overlying theme is the general allure of science but also it provides a description of how scientists think about the world around them. The topics covered range from popular science fiction, mythology, frauds and pseudoscience and the 'current state' of scientific research. The age of the various articles has in some cases obscured the work - few readers today have heard of Velikovsky, a charletan who had a wide following in the 1940's and 50's, for example. In other instances the passage of time has added a new dimension to the article - we can see how well the then planned scientific research was carried out and what the results have been so far.

The format of short articles that can be read in any order lends itself to reading in short bursts (as opposed to settling in for a few uninterrupted hours) making this a perfect book to take along to fill in those odd minutes on the morning commute, or waiting to pick up the kids. Each article takes just a few minutes to read but will provide plenty to think about long after.
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on December 23, 2000
Broca's Brain may not be as famous as other works such as Cosmos or Contact, but it's every bit as engaging. In particular, the chapter entitled "A Sunday Sermon" contains tidbits I believe every person on this planet, whatever their religious beliefs or lack therof are, can gain important insight from. He manages to tackle this difficult subject with grace and dignity, without lambasting any view. As he says (paraphrased) "I believe that those beliefs that can't survive scrutiny aren't worth having. Those that do, have at least a kernal of truth within them". So true, Mr. Sagan.
Some of the chapters are simply fun; the chapter on how heavenly bodies are named, and the opening chapter on Paul Broca, and his brain, are like this. You do not need a science degree to enjoy/understand this book. I do possess one, however I read it in early high school, and it's just as relevant to me now.
Carl Sagan performed a difficult feat: to make science interesting and accessable to an entire generation. I am in science, loving every minute of it, due in part to Mr. Sagan's efforts. Don't miss this important and fascinating book that covers an amazing array of subjects.
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on April 11, 1999
I read "Broca's Brain" in high school (late eighties) at a time when I believed in all sorts of pseudoscientific flim-flam. In an entertaining and very readable style, Sagan showed the weaknesses in the theories of those on the edge of science, and from that point onward I viewed everything with a skeptical mind.
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on December 31, 1999
Dr. Sagan was an extraordinary teacher. He could explain things in such an easy way that anyone can understand. This book tells how most of the time scientist do not have the time to educate people and by failing to do so let people in the hands of the pseudoscientist. Since science developes so fast, there is no way to buy an up to date book. Anyway all Dr. Sagan's books are fun to read and a good tool to inspire us to keep looking for more information. I will recomend any of his books.
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on June 26, 2003
Broca's brain is a difficult book to rate, because Sagan is really all over the place with it, covering tons of different topics. I gave it four stars because a lot of it is fascinating and amazingly written (easily 5 stars), but some of the other sections really pull it down. By and large, it's all good stuff, with two exceptions - he goes on for a couple dozen pages about the names of various craters on various planets and moons in our solar system. Maybe I missed the point, but I just couldn't get interested in it. The second thing, which is what really lost the book that last star, is the chapter on Velikovskian Catastrophism. Apparently around the time this book was written (about thirty years ago, but it's all still interesting and relevant information), there was a book going around by someone named Velikovsky, who pretty much claimed that the book of Exodus, and all of the fantastic things that happen in it (the plagues, the parting of the red sea, etc.) where caused by some six comets or meteors that passed so close to the earth as to gravitationally (or magnetically, apparently this Velikovsky isn't quite sure) affect various things (i.e. somehow the gravitational pull of the nearby comet caused the water of the red sea to rise up in two different directions, therefor allowing the israelites to pass in between). Now I have a great deal of respect for Carl Sagan and his work, and I don't know what the climate of popular science was like thirty years ago. Clearly he felt a need to strongly discredit this theory - maybe a lot of people believed it then. But today, it seems pretty silly - I'm not a student of physics, astronomy or anything like that and the sum of my knowledge on the subject comes from popular science books that I enjoy reading. But the idea of six meteors flying that close to the earth, over the course of a couple months, plus the effects that Velikovsky claims would result, seem completely impossible - requiring maybe a page or two to respectfully discredit, but definitely not the fifty or so pages that Sagan uses to completely (and, it's important to note, respectfully) demolish the theory. I found it very tedious. I know that I've gone on for a while on this, but it really bothered me and detracted from an otherwise excellent book. Also highly recommended is Dragons of Eden, also by Sagan.
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VINE VOICEon June 5, 2008
PROS: Classic, elegant prose from one of the best science writers of all time. Sagan was a genius of making science interesting to the masses and his works reflect that.

(1) This book is disjointed. It feels like a collection of independent essays or lectures that were all brought together. There is little flow from chapter to chapter and the sections of the book are somewhat arbitrary and broad. It doesn't flow as well from chapter to chapter as Sagan's other books.
(2) The book is dated. It's not Sagan's fault, but this book is out of date. Written in the 1970s, we have since learned so much about the universe. It's interesting to hear Sagan speculate about certain planets and other things we now know about. It's cool to see how accurate many of his speculations were. Nevertheless, to learn more about the universe, you should read a book written in the 21st century.

CONCLUSION: I love Sagan! I enjoyed this book. But it's disjoined and dated nature made me give it only 3 stars. He has written other better books, like "Cosmos", "Billions and Billions", and "Dragons of Eden". I also enjoyed "Contact", which is fiction. Although all those books are also dated, they have a more timeless message.
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on October 29, 1999
This book is constructed so that each chapter can be read as a separate story, independant of the other chapters, which makes this book very pick-up-able and readable at any given time...
This was a stunning, humorous book in which Carl masterfully and methodically goes about debunking mumbo-jumbo theories and beliefs that are apparent even in today's technologically-advanced society. His debunking of Velikovsky is wonderful.
At the same time, with a brilliance and a vision of the near-future, Carl predicts such space missions as Mars Pathfinder, and the Hubble Space Telescope, before their actual construction and launches. His bright and hopeful vision of our place in space is certainly heartening in these days of NASA budget cuts. This book sits by my night table like a primer to science. Thanks so much Carl for bringing it to our lives!
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