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The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science Paperback – December 18, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For years the doctrine of neuroscientists has been that the brain is a machine: break a part and you lose that function permanently. But more and more evidence is turning up to show that the brain can rewire itself, even in the face of catastrophic trauma: essentially, the functions of the brain can be strengthened just like a weak muscle. Scientists have taught a woman with damaged inner ears, who for five years had had "a sense of perpetual falling," to regain her sense of balance with a sensor on her tongue, and a stroke victim to recover the ability to walk although 97% of the nerves from the cerebral cortex to the spine were destroyed. With detailed case studies reminiscent of Oliver Sachs, combined with extensive interviews with lead researchers, Doidge, a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Columbia and the University of Toronto, slowly turns everything we thought we knew about the brain upside down. He is, perhaps, overenthusiastic about the possibilities, believing that this new science can fix every neurological problem, from learning disabilities to blindness. But Doidge writes interestingly and engagingly about some of the least understood marvels of the brain. (Mar. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility. Mind-bending, miracle-making, reality-busting stuff...with implications for all human beings, not to mention human culture, human learning and human history.”
-The New York Times

“Brilliant...Doidge has identified a tidal shift in basic science...The implications are monumental.”
-The London Times

“Fascinating. Doidge’s book is a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain.”
-Oliver Sacks, MD

“Two years ago, when the journal Cerebrum at the Dana Foundation in the US updated its list of great books about the brain for the general reader, it found there were already 30,000 brain-related books in English. Aided by scientific advisers and readers, it produced a new list - with The Brain That Changes Itself at No. 1.”
-The Melbourne Age

“Lucid and absolutely fascinating. It satisfies in equal measure the mind and heart.”
-The Chicago Tribune

“Doidge turns everything we thought we knew about the brain upside down.”
-Publisher’s Weekly

“Brilliant...This book is a wonderful and engaging way or re-imagining what kind of creatures we are.”
-Jeanette Winterson, novelist, Order of the British Empire, Guardian, Best Book of 2008

“Superb. Brilliant. I devoured it.” 
-V.S. Ramachandran, MD, PHD, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Univeristy of California, San Diego, Author of Phantoms of the Brain 

“Doidge... is a master ... at explaining science to the rest of us. Doidge is the best possible guide. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to read it, just curious about your brain.  Buy this book. Your brain will thank you.”
-The Globe and Mail

“Readers will want to read entire sections aloud and pass the book on to someone who can benefit from it. [Doidge] links scientific experimentation with personal triumph in a way that inspires awe”
-Washington Post 
“Doidge tells one spell-binding story after another as he travels the globe interviewing the scientists and their subjects who are on the cutting edge of a new age. It may be hard to imagine that a book so rich in science can also be a page-turner, but this one is hard to set down.”  
-Jeff Zimman, Posit Science, e-newsletter 

“The most readable and best general treatment of this subject to date.”        
- Michael M. Merzenich, Ph.D., Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences   University of California at San Francisco

“A riveting, essential book… These stories are most emotionally satisfying. Doidge addresses how cultural influences literally "shape" our brain. [And]….our response to the world around us is not only a social or psychological phenomenon, but often a lasting neurological process.”
— Montreal Gazette, Liam Durcan, MD,      Neurologist & Novelist 

“A hymn to life.”
-Panorama Italy


“The Brain That Changes Itself...is without question the most important book of the year, and maybe the most important book we have ever read.”
-Kiril Sokoloff, 13D Research Inc

“This books is like discovering that the earth isn’t flat.”
-Gretel Killeen, Sun Herald, “The Books That Changed Me”

“A rich banquet of brain-mind plasticity, communicated in a brilliantly clear writing style.”
-Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., Head, Affective Neuroscience Research, Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, Northwestern University;
                           
“A masterfully guided tour through the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity research.”
- Discover Magazine

“Norman Doidge has shown that what and how we think can change our brains. He has illuminated the foundations of psychological healing.”
- Charles Hanly, Ph.D.President, International Psychoanalytical Association

“Astonishing. This book will inevitably draw comparisons to the work of Oliver Sacks. Doidge has a prodigious gift for rendering the highly technical highly readable. It's hard to imagine a more exciting topic--or a better introduction to it.”
- Kitchener Waterloo Record

“Perfect for fans of Oliver Sacks”
-Quill & Quire

“Beautifully written and brings life and clarity to a variety of neuropsychiatric problems that affect children and adults... It reads a bit like a science detective story and -you do not need a Ph.D. to benefit from the wisdom imparted here.”
- Barbara Milrod, M.D. Psychiatry, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York 

“A panoramic examination of plasticity's profound implications. “                      
-Toronto Daily Star

“An eloquently written book about the boundless potential of the human brain.
- The Jewish Week

“Norman Doidge has written a fascinating, highly readable account of the new brain science.” 
-John Cornwell, Literary Review, England

“You really should read this book... this remarkable work will lead us to see ourselves in a new light.”                         
-Mail on Sunday, England

“An 'essential primer’ for anyone who wants to better understand their own brains and the considerable advances in neuroscience of the past two decades.”
-Melbourne Age

“A book that everybody should read... it is nothing short of miraculous. Get it!”
-Yoko Ono, Yoko Reads Book Recommendations

“Fascinating … Doidge has accomplished a rare feat. He has written a book that accurately conveys cutting-edge scientific discoveries while simultaneously engaging both scientific and popular audiences.”
-Neuro-Psychoanalysis       


“A remarkable book ... a highly readable exploration of a branch of science that has the potential to change all our lives.”
-Hobart Mercury

“Why isn't this book on the top of the bestseller list of all time? The recognition that the brain in plastic and can actually change itself with exercise and understanding is a huge leap in the history or mankind, far greater than landing on the moon.”
- Jane S. Hall, International Psychoanalysis

“Only a few decades ago, scientists considered the brain to be fixed or ‘hardwired’ and considered most forms of brain damage, therefore, to be incurable.  Dr. Doidge, an eminent psychiatrist and researcher, was struck by how his patients’ own transformations belied this and set out to explore the new science of neuroplasticity by interviewing both scientific pioneers in neuroscience, and patients who have benefited from neurorehabilitation. Here he describes in fascinating personal narratives how the brain, far from being fixed, has remarkable powers of changing its own structure and compensating for even the most challenging neurological conditions. Doidge’s book is a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain.”
- Oliver Sack, MD, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 Reprint edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113102
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (591 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Our brains can change!
R. Callicotte
In this insightful book, Norman Doidge explores the amazing concept of neuroplasticity.
Veronica Martino
The books is an easy read and I highly recommend that anyone read it.
SJSSarah

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

687 of 707 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on March 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Neuroplasticity has recently become a bit of a buzzword. Long the preserve of neuroscientists, this is one of a number of new books on the topic written for the public.

I recently reviewed Sharon Begley's superb book - Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain - and this one is in a similar vein. Though it is rather different from Sharon's book in which the main focus was on the changes wrought in the brains of meditators, while this one looks at the extraordinary responses of the brain to injury or congenital absence of sensory organs. Since this book went to press, yet another study, this time from India, has shown that some blind children may be able to regain their sight, an observation that is helping turn a lot of neurology on its head.

Neuroplasticity is a topic of enormous practical importance. The increasing evidence that the brain is a highly adaptable structure that undergoes constant change throughout life is a far cry from the idea that we are simply the product of our genes or our environment. Our genes help determine how we can respond to the environment; they do not make us who we are. And we all have untapped potential. This is more than the old nature/nurture debate in a new bottle. It has implications for human potential: how much can you develop your own brain and mind? Can you really teach a child to be a kind, loving person who can dramatically exceed his or her potential? Can psychotherapy really help change your brain for the better? Can we help re-wire the brain of a psychopath? Do we have the right to try?

The author is both a research psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst who has interviewed many experts in the field.
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339 of 349 people found the following review helpful By Cory Kerens on July 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most interesting nonfiction books that I have *ever* read. I found the book fascinating, but lest that be chalked up to my being a psychologist, my husband the computer scientist found it fascinating, too.

Scientists used to believe that the brain was relatively fixed and unchanging -- some of them still believe that -- but recent research shows that the brain is much more mutable than biologists, psychologists, physicians (and any other scientists who studied brains) had ever thought.

For example, anecdotal evidence had long supported the idea that blind people hear better than sighted people, but scientists pooh-poohed this idea, saying that there was no mechanism for that to occur. Well, they recently discovered that the area of the brain usually called the visual cortex is taken over for auditory processing in blind people. So blind folks have twice as much brain space devoted to processing sounds, which means that they really do hear better, and now we know why. Scientists were astounded to discover that the "visual" cortex was really just brain space that could be used for anything.

Psych 101 and Bio 101 textbooks often have a picture in them that shows which areas of the brain control which bodily functions, and this is all presented as fixed and unchanging. Imagine our surprise to learn that the brain can make fairly large shifts in just a few days -- for example, if you blindfold somebody for five days, the area of their brains that's usually called the visual cortex starts using large sections of itself to process touch and sound, and this change is made in as little as two days. Two days!
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532 of 567 people found the following review helpful By A. M. Guest on July 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
I have a general professional interest in psychology and brain science, which often leads me to be frustrated by the tendency towards reductionism and exaggeration. This book looked promising to me because the author is advertised as a psychoanalyst--something that usually does not mesh well with neuroscience. I was intrigued to see how Freud might think about modern psychology's biological determinism. On that score, I found The Brain That Changes Itself reasonably satisfying; the chapter on how neural plasticity can help us understand the impact of psychotherapy was among the best in the book. I very much appreciate the emphasis on how experience (including talk therapy) and culture, not just genes and drugs, shape the brain. That is something that is easy to miss in viewing the pretty brain scans of contemporary popular science. I also found the appendix on how culture works through neural plasticity interesting, although I don't find it helpful to define culture as Doidge seems to--something akin to cultivation and taste (a definition that leads to a problematic hierarchy of cultures based on somewhat arbitrary criteria). It is, however, important to recognize that culture and the brain have a reciprocal relationship.

My main concern with the book is that much of the argument seems to imply that the brain is infinitely malleable with the right exercises and effort. Though Doidge does note at points that plasticity is not infinite, he also seems to endorse the very American cultural script that individuals have total control over everything that happens to them. If babies are properly stimulated they will all be geniuses! If ADHD children go through the proper attentional exercises they will suddenly excel! If the elderly go to brain gyms they will never lose their memory!
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