From Publishers Weekly
Novelist and science writer Halpern (Four Wings and a Prayer
) wades bravely into the morass of modern memory research to sort the truth from a wide assortment of hyperbole and promises and platitudes. The news is mixed: most of us won't develop Alzheimer's, but everyone will suffer some memory loss. After describing the different types of memory, Halpern gamely undertakes a series of brain scans used to reveal brain damage and tries diagnostic tests that measure memory through the ability to recall words, images and smells. Researchers have identified a gene closely linked with Alzheimer's, but drugs to treat or prevent memory loss are still far from reality, Halpern says, adding that for many drug companies, the success of a remedy is measured only by how quickly it moves off the shelves. Armed with a mix of hope and healthy skepticism, the author also examines claims that eating chocolate (among other things) or solving puzzles can improve brain function. So much of who we know ourselves to be comes from what we remember, Halpern writes, and her timely book offers a vivid, often amusing introduction to a science that touches us all. (May)
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*Starred Review* Halpern, author of Four Wings and a Prayer (2001), tackles memory, the most elusive of subjects, in her return to nonfiction after her powerful debut novel, The Book of Hard Things (2003). Goaded by the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and the seemingly inevitable equation—more years lived, more memory lost—Halpern puts herself on the line in this energetic inquiry into cutting-edge neurological research. As a test subject, she undergoes brain scans, including one that turns her radioactive; takes batteries of cognitive tests; visits the labs of leading neuroscientists; and tracks drug-development efforts. Halpern is rigorous in her explanations of the workings of the hippocampus, and impish in her critique of corporate-funded research (why is Mars, the maker of M & Ms, interested in neuroscience?). She incisively contrasts popular claims for the memory-boosting qualities of ginkgo biloba, blueberries, crossword puzzles, ballroom dancing, and chocolate with the painstaking work of scientists attempting to decode neurotransmitters and determine the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Evincing a gift for perfect analogies and supple metaphors, mischievous humor, and righteous skepticism, Halpern is an exceptionally companionable and enlightening guide through the maze of memory maladies and the promising search for remedies. --Donna Seaman