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Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique Paperback – June 30, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060892897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060892890
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Gazzaniga, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara (and one of the inventors of the field), takes us on a lively tour through the latest research on brain evolution.” (New York Times Book Review)

“The book is an intellectual romp through the cognitive neurosciences . . . a rich testimony to the incredible accomplishments of the human brain in coming to understand itself.” (New York Sun)

“In this book, Gazzaniga uses science AND some truly engaging, witty writing to explain us to us.” (CNBC.com)

“A savvy, witty guide to neuroscience today.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Brilliantly written and utterly fascinating. Gazzaniga stands as a giant among neuroscientists, for both the quality of his research and his ability to communicate it to a general public with infectious enthusiasm.” (Robert Bazell, Chief Science Correspondent, NBC News)

“One could ask for no better guide... compelling, wide-ranging tour.” (Daniel Henninger)

“[Readers] will enjoy the science he unravels.” (Floyd E. Bloom)

“Michael Gazzaniga shares his considerable insight... compelling, and at the same time, clear.” (Dr. Steven E. Hyman)

“Gazzaniga is one of the founders of the field of cognitive neuroscience... full of dazzling insights... engaging.”-- (V.S. Ramachandran)

“...[A] shimmering new book...[Gazzaniga] explains the latest findings from the sciences of mind and brain in a coherent and satisfying narrative. This is the place to look to learn about our best scientific understanding of what it means to be human.” (Steven Pinker, author of THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT and HOW THE MIND WORKS)

“As wide-ranging as it is deep, and as entertaining as it is informative, the latest offering from UC–Santa Barbara neuroscientist Gazzaniga (The Ethical Brain) will please a diverse array of readers. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Readers of Gazzaniga’s intriguing insights into the realm of neuroscience are certain to have their consciousnesses pleasantly piqued in numerous ways.” (Saturday Evening Post)

“Wonderfully smart and often funny...I recommend [HUMAN] highly. This book combines succinct views of how we became the amazing animals that we are, the biological bases of morality, and some atonishing futurology.” (Titlepage.tv)

“As wide-ranging as it is deep, and as entertaining as it is informative, the latest offering from University of California at Santa Barbara neuroscientist Gazzaniga (The Ethical Brain) will please a diverse array of readers.” (Washington Examiner)

“Sweeping, erudite and humorous. . . If you are looking for one book that gives you a Cook’s Tour of the human brain, where it came from and where it is heading, this would be an excellent choice.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

About the Author

Michael S. Gazzaniga is the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, the founding director of the MacArthur Foundation's Law and Neuroscience Project, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. He lives in California.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Diego Azeta on April 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
It is not often that lay readers have the opportunity to learn about the full spectrum of developments in a personally relevant academic discipline straight from one of the field's founders. As an added bonus, the author's exposition is so clear that it is truly a pleasure to read. In «Human», Michael Gazzaniga surveys the copious research findings of cognitive neuroscience and lucidly discusses the attendant implications on the practical art of being human.

Gazzaniga adopts an evolutionary perspective by demonstrating that "most human activity can be related to antecedents in other animals". But he goes on to show that despite the common biochemical and physiological make-up, humans are in fact very different from other creatures. It is as if "something like a phase shift has occurred in becoming human", he writes, referring to the phase transitions of matter. Mindful that general opinion is actually quite varied, however, the author duly mentions dissenting views in the book's afterword, such as "I think at the core humans are no different from animals" and the well-known "Humans are self-centered egotists". Thus the reader is informed of the wider range of critical judgment regarding the contested issue of our inherent humanity versus animality.

The grand tour starts out with a discussion of the remarkable organ that makes being human possible, the brain, followed by a comparison between humans and our closest living relatives, the chimps. Then the role of big brains in negotiating social worlds is examined, with particular attention devoted to the evolutionary development of morality (including the related themes of rationality and decision making) and of awareness and empathy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Poorna Rajeevan on September 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Purpose of Book:
Michael S. Gazzinga looks into what makes humans exceptionally unique compared to other organisms and deciphers what change occurred for this process to happen overtime. Human: The science behind what makes your brain unique stresses into the factors that make the human brain remarkable, the significance of language, artistic abilities, and intelligence, and the fundamentals of individual consciousness.

Overall Opinion of Book:
The book overall was a great read for me! I was extremely captivated by Gazzinga's ability to explain the brain in terms of such simplicity; however, he also emphasized on the nitty-gritty aspects in the brain that distinguished one organism from another. As a classical dancer as well, I was especially intrigued by the section of the book noted as "The Glory of Being Human" which went into the artistic capabilities and skills wired in the human brain. I definitely was able to relate to this book because it not only showed differences between human beings and other organisms, but it also showed how we are different from other people through the anatomy and patho-physiology of our brains.

Synopsis of Book:
The book is broken up into four different parts, and each individual part ties into the uniqueness of the human brain. The first few pages gives acknowledgements to different people who helped in the process of writing the book, and then, the book proceeds to a prologue, that gives an introduction of the book, as well as source documentation.

Part one of the book talks about the basics of human life. The book first looks into an evolutionary perspective, where despite the bio-molecular and physiological aspects of the brain, humans are evidently different from any type of organism in the world.
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22 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Cebes on May 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
The blurb on the cover indicates that this book by a neuroscientist gives us the "scientific understanding" of what it means to be human. The tone of the book throughout celebrates how science is finally shedding light on the mind and how it works, thanks to "modern research techniques." However, the reader will quickly find out the book does not live up to its promise, as it turns out we know very little about how the mind works. The book's claims are full of words like "may" and "might" and "perhaps" and "possibly" and so on; at one point Gazzaniga concedes that we don't even know what intelligence is, nor what processes in the brain produces it. But you're not going to have much of a theory of human nature if you don't even understand things so basic as consciousness and intelligence.

Much of the book consists either of inane trivialities, like: "One thing is for sure: music does increase positive affect, just as some visual stimuli do" (translation: we like nice music, and we like looking at pretty things). Or, "men's and women's behaviors differ in some areas" (Stop the presses!).

Much of the book simply lists the various speculative theories about certain aspects of human behavior. Take art for existence: Gazzaniga lists five distinct and mutually inconsistent theories of why humans make art, without any way of deciding between them. In short, we have no idea why humans produce art.

A further problem, common to much of "evolutionary psychology," is that most of the theories are more armchair speculations than empirical science. Gazzaniga tries hard to ground his claims in experimental evidence, but unfortunately the evidence is rather thin and difficult to interpret.
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