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The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God [Hardcover]

David J. Linden
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The brain, that "cobbled-together mess," is the subject of this lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories. Linden, a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University, offers "the Reader's Digest version" of how the brain functions, followed quickly by the "real biology," before tackling the big questions: Why are people religious? How do we form memories? What makes sleep so vital to mental health? Which is more important, nature or nurture? Linden tackles these problems head on, debunking myths (people do, in fact, use more than 10 percent of their brains) and offering interesting trivia (Einstein's brain was a bit on the small side) along the way. Anti-evolutionary arguments are answered in a chapter titled "The Unintelligent Design of the Brain," in which Linden proposes that it's the brain's "weird agglomeration of ad hoc solutions" that makes humans unique. The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the "Hummer H2 of the body"). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in-and even chuckling over-the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next.
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Review

[A] lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories... The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the Hummer H2 of the body). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in--and even chuckling over--the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2007-03-26)

More than another salvo in the battle over whether biological structures are the products of supernatural design or biological evolution (though Linden has no doubt it's the latter), research on our brain's primitive foundation is cracking such puzzles as why we cannot tickle ourselves, why we are driven to spin narratives even in our dreams and why reptilian traits persist in our gray matter. (Sharon Begley Newsweek 2007-04-09)

Linden tells his story well, in an engaging style, with plenty of erudition and a refreshing honesty about how much remains unknown. The book should easily hold the attention of readers with little background in biology and no prior knowledge of brains. It would make an excellent present for curious non-scientists and a good book for undergraduates who are just entering into the brain's magic menagerie. Even readers trained in neuroscience are likely to enjoy the many tidbits of rarely taught information--on love, sex, gender, sleep and dreams--that spice up Linden's main argument. The Accidental Mind stands out for being highly readable and clearly educational. No doubt, the human brain evolved along a constrained path and is, in some respects, designed imperfectly. Linden will send that message home...We still know too little about the brain's inner workings to judge how well it does its job. What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined. (Georg Striedter Nature 2007-06-07)

The majority of this book is an enjoyable neurosciences primer for the general reader. Evolutionary and psychological perspectives provide occasional insights about the mind, but mostly the subject here is the organ capable of conjuring it into existence. Linden makes clear that the physical substrate of our mental phenomena--the squidgy and haphazard mass of our brain--is a gloriously evolved muddle. (Druin Burch Times Literary Supplement 2007-06-01)

Many popular neuroscience books emphasize the brain's complexity using terms of purpose: this region is for emotion, that one for vision, and so forth, each interacting in a perfectly designed whole. This ambitious, engaging, and often irreverent book by Linden adopts a quite different perspective, instead emphasizing the evolutionary origins of the human brain...The book...end[s] with a well-argued discussion of the tension between neuroscience and intelligent design. The emphasis on evolution is laudable...making this book an important counterpoint to breathless paeans to brain design. (S. A. Huettel Choice 2007-08-01)

For anyone interested in a skillfully guided tour through the world of neural function, The Accidental Mind is a playful yet academically informed work that addresses issues as diverse as intelligent design, the fallibility of the senses, the human religious impulse, and the possible heritability of sexual orientation. Without overwhelming the reader with the biochemical underpinnings of neural function, Linden explores the role that neural design (structure and function) has in the explication of various human behaviors. (Charles J. Alt History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 2007-12-01)

Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze [that is the brain]. (Steven Rose The Guardian 2008-12-27)

Review

This is a terrific book that accomplishes its aim of presenting a biological view of how the brain works, and does so in a charming, fetching style. (Joshua R. Sanes, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University)

About the Author

David J. Linden is Professor of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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