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Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention Hardcover – November 12, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The transparent and automatic feat of reading comprehension disguises an intricate biological effort, ably analyzed in this fascinating study. Drawing on scads of brain-imaging studies, case histories of stroke victims and ingenious cognitive psychology experiments, cognitive neuroscientist Dehaene (The Number Sense) diagrams the neural machinery that translates marks on paper into language, sound and meaning. It's a complex and surprising circuitry, both specific, in that it is housed in parts of the cortex that perform specific processing tasks, and puzzlingly abstract. (The brain, Dehaene hypothesizes, registers words mainly as collections of pairs of letters.) The author proposes reading as an example of neuronal recycling—the recruitment of previously evolved neural circuits to accomplish cultural innovations—and uses this idea to explore how ancient scribes shaped writing systems around the brain's potential and limitations. (He likewise attacks modern whole language reading pedagogy as an unnatural imposition on a brain attuned to learning by phonics.) This lively, lucid treatise proves once again that Dehaene is one of our most gifted expositors of science; he makes the workings of the mind less mysterious, but no less miraculous. Illus. (Nov. 16)
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About the Author

STANISLAS DEHAENE is the director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Saclay, France, and the professor of experimental cognitive psychology at the Coll���ge de France. He is the author of Reading in the Brain.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (November 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021109
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #797,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 89 people found the following review helpful By James T. Ranney on December 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
An astonishing work, explaining convincingly how mankind acquired (only in the last 5,000 years) a skill we all take for granted: reading. The brief explanation, as I (a non-scientist) understand it? Reading takes quite a lot of brain computer firepower (because of the multiple processing required), such that our eventually huge frontal lobes were necessary. The portions of our brain used initially for visual recognition lead to the wiring of our brains to recognize certain key shapes, shapes that eventually become the key "strokes" used in writing (by all cultures) such that they are in effect structured into our brain's learning algorithm, creating specific neuronal circuits and structures, previously used as visual pathways. It's an amazing story, well told by one well placed to present the many brain science studies (many of which he conducted) which fully explicate the story. Also numerous "side-stories" worth hearing: e.g., re the origins of our alphabet, along with occasional hints of possible future evolution of the human brain. An A+ book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Mccune on March 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Although one of the main topics covered in this book is dyslexia and how it may be a culturally defined disorder as well as a neurological disorder, the book covers a wide range of data. Dehaene is very thorough, offering extensive fMRI maps of up to date research on modules of the brain pertaining to reading. The book may be hard to wade through for those of us unfamiliar with extensive neurological terminology, but Dehaene works hard to ensure that his readers understand the issues. A very worthwhile read for any linguist, cognitive scientist, or anyone simply interested in the evolution of reading in our ambitious pleistocene minds.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Laurie A. Brown VINE VOICE on March 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Author Dehaene, who has some very impressive credentials, has made an exhaustive exploration of how the human brain reads. What he has concluded is that we `recycle' parts of the brain that were evolved to do other things. Humans have been evolving for several million years, but only reading for a few thousand- a new structure just for reading couldn't have been created in that time. And reading arose in several geographical areas around the same time- the chances of a special mutation for reading happening in all those places is pretty slim.

Hundreds of experiments, from EEGs, fMRIs, split brain surgeries, tests on people who have had strokes or other brain damage, have found how reading works. From how the eye functions, to the recognition of letters on paper, to turning them mentally into sound, and putting those sounds together into words, Dehaene has traced the path. He gives his opinions on what seem to be the best way to teach reading, but also calls for large experiments in teaching reading to resolve, once and for all, what is the best, most efficient way to teach all- not just average children but adult illiterates and people with dyslexia.

The book is very interesting, but it can be slow going. He gives the conditions and results of test after test, and tells us what the information gained tells us about reading. What the reader learns about their brain makes it worth sticking with the book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pellerine on November 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I found/find this book interesting from sentence one: "At this moment, your brain is accomplishing an amazing feat - reading" (p. 1). The book moves on to look at: theory, science, applications for educators and parents, and critical issues in the area of literacy. I am not sure I agree with all that is presented on Dyslexia, especially in reference to McGuinness (2005: see Language Development and Learning to Read: The Scientific Study of How Language Development Affects Reading Skill (Bradford Books)), suggesting quite the opposite - BUT - I do appreciate the literature as those of us interested in issues such as Dyslexia should have a balanced read.

I also like how Dehaene addresses the underpinnings of reading from a neurological perspective attempting to share what we know think we understand.

I do think this book is not replaceable by other books and deserves a solid spot on the shelf of any educator or academic interested in literacy - especially from a cognitive science perspective. It is easy to follow and can either be read or used as a reference book.
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50 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Charles J. Robinove on August 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Wanna get cheated? Then buy the book "Reading in the Brain" by Stanislas Dehaene! The author has done a masterful job of summarizing the present day knowledge of how the brain treats reading but has been let down by his publisher.
The publisher has badly cheated the reader by printing all the illustrations in black-and-white and then telling the reader on page 58 "... for full-color figures please visit". This is done in both the Viking hard-cover edition (ISBN 978-0-670-02110-9) and the Penguin paperback edition (ISBN 978-0-14-311805-0). Many of the figures, particularly 5.1 on page 216 require color to be understood and the publication forces the reader to go outside the book to understand it. For any degree of permanence the reader must waste time and effort to download and print the figures in order to have them with the printed book when they should have been printed with the text. What a cheap way for supposedly reputable publishers to save a little money at the expense of the customer who has paid for and deserves a lot better.
This book will be around for many decades to come but websites are ephemeral and can disappear at the touch of a button when the publisher decides to let the book go out of print and can no longer make money by maintaining the website. Believe me, it will happen one of these days and the reader will no longer have the knowledge of the complete book. I hope this is not a new publishing trend and that publishers hope that this nasty ploy will drive readers to ephemeral ebooks instead of real printed books. Shame on Viking and Penguin for cheating their readers and taking their money under the false pretenses that they are buying a complete book.
Charles J. Robinove, book collector, antiquarian book dealer, and book appreciator in Monument , Colorado
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