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The Brain: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Michael O'Shea
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 16, 2006 0192853929 978-0192853929 1st
The Brain: A Very Short Introduction provides a non-technical introduction to the main issues and findings in current brain research and gives a sense of how neuroscience addresses questions about the relationship between the brain and the mind. Short, clear discussions on the mechanical workings of the brain are offered and the details of brain science are covered in an accessible style. Explanations of the more familiar implications of the brain's actions, such as memories, perceptions, and motor control are integrated throughout the book. It has chapters on brain processes and the causes of "altered mental states," as well as a final chapter that discusses possible future developments in neuroscience, touching on artificial intelligence, gene therapy, the importance of the Human Genome Project, drugs by design, and transplants. Up-to-date coverage of the newest developments in brain research and suggestions for future research on the brain are also included.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Editorial Reviews


'O'Shea writes with real enthusiasm.' The Guardian

About the Author

Michael O'Shea is Director of the Sussex Center for Neuroscience.

Product Details

  • Series: Very Short Introductions
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (February 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853929
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853929
  • Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 4.4 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brainy introduction, but not picture perfect September 15, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
O'Shea's book provides a very broad overview of the structure and function of the most complex object known to Man. The biochemical and physical interactions of neurons, the formation of memory, brain-machine interaction, and a range of other topics, are all touched upon in a readable and informative manner, pitched at the level of an intelligent beginner, and requiring just an elementary grasp of physics and chemistry. The book has one significant shortcoming: Most of the illustrations are copied from other publications, and are a poor match with the text. For example, on page 45 there is a diagram illustrating avoidance behavior in unicellular animals, a simple concept not requiring a diagram, let alone one that occupies almost an entire page and contains labels that are not referenced in the text. Yet when we come to the discussion of the large-scale structure of the human brain, in Chapter 4, which cries out for a detailed diagram, there is none. I was reduced to finding one online, to refer to as I read the text. I agonized long and hard about whether to deduct a star from the rating, because I do recommend this book, but in the end I decided I had to. I hope OUP reissue it with more relevant illustrations.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction May 25, 2006
This is one of the best books in the VSI series, and I've read well over thirty by now. It gives a very good introduction to the basic neuroanatomy of the brain, and explains many important brain functions. The book is intended for laypeople, but even those (like me) who are familiar with the subject can benefit from reading it. Oftentimes neuroscience textbook overwhelm with details, and it is sometimes hard to see the forest from the trees. This book provides a good bird's eye perspective on the field, and its many references and recommended books make it a valuable reference. Very importantly, the book is up to date in some of the more recent discoveries, including some current controversies like grandma neuron, the idea that the brain has a neuron devoted just for recognizing each family member.

A good, well written and well organized book. I highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars vibrant, clear and stimulating April 15, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In April 2013, the author of this Very Short Introduction, Michael O'Shea, pulled together a very swish Instant Expert feature on the human brain for the magazine New Scientist. I picked up this VSI because of the quality of the magazine feature and was not disappointed.

O'Shea's introduction is important in two ways: it scopes what a 127 page book can cover of such an enormous topic, and it demonstrates O'Shea's exposition style with a stimulating review of the process of reading. The book is structured with an historical perspective, descriptions of electrical and chemical signaling mechanisms (including a background on brain imaging tools), nervous system evolution, response to sensations and perceptions, and explanations of the basic mechanisms of short and long term memory. O'Shea's area of expertise comes to the fore in a brief discussion of brain/computer interfaces and artificial nervous networks. Citations are not provided although the Further Reading is useful if now a little dated.

Stand out aspects of this book are O'Shea's explanations of neural signaling. As a reader with a biology background, I found his explanations unusually fresh and intelligible; the chapter on neural evolution offers a sound context for the other information on brain structure and function; and the chapter on perception gives very clear and insightful explanations and examples, for instance on the interplay between the eyes and the lateral geniculate nuclei in the deceptively simple art of depth perception. Memory mechanisms are explained concisely and, again, with a rare clarity. I have generally found Oxford's VSI series to be well directed, either attempting a rounded description of a topic or a more incisive exploration of specific aspects. The Brain, A Very Short Introduction is a standout, combining both these approaches in a vibrant and clear exposition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly comprehensive and up to dated January 15, 2012
By Cronos
This book, part of the Very Short Introduction Series (Oxford University Press), surprised me by its comprehensiveness despite its 144 pages. It is also remarkably up to dated and reads smooth and accessibly. The book is organized along 8 chapters presenting, a logic sequence, the main aspects of the brain.

The first important fact to take into account about this book is that it is about the brain, not the mind or even the relationship brain and mind. So, it focuses on descriptions of the brain structure and sensory aspects, not on mind-related issues such as behavior, consciousness, and personality. The book starts by describing what is happening as one reads the lines of a text, and introduces them main aspects of brain research in the process. The second chapter provides a very interesting historical review, with emphasis on the Golgi/Cajal findings (i.e. reticular against network models). Chapter 3 is dedicated to brain signalling, covering in an engaging, comprehensive and yet accessible way the basic theory of neuronal transmission. Evolution and development are covered in Chapter 4, and sensation, perception and action in Chapter 5. The grandmother/sparse coding of information in the brain is treated with great clarity and insight. Chapter 6 covers the all important aspect of memory, identifying and characterizing the several types of memories and how and where they take place. The explanation of Kandel's seminal findings is very accessible and illustrates the impressive didactic abilities of the author. Chapter 7, which covers how the brain can be enhanced and repaired, proved to be remarkably up to dated and interestingly written. Chapter 8 concludes the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice overview of the brain
A good overview of the brain and the neuroscience along with the history/, an easy read even for the non=scientist.
Published 1 month ago by Mike Beymer
4.0 out of 5 stars Having a functional one is important!
The medical terminology is well explained so a non medical person can understand what an incredible 'machine' the brain is in its relationship with the central nervous system.
Published 3 months ago by Ann Turner
4.0 out of 5 stars Ultra-brief intro to your Brain
This was one of the first ebooks that I bought from the Kindle store. It is an ultra-brief introduction to your brain. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Reasonable Ape
4.0 out of 5 stars Book
Small book with a lot of information. The book arrived in excellent condition and is a good addition to my library.
Published 3 months ago by Jolene Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice review
Thought I'd start my reeducation with something easy so I picked something I sort of already keep up on. Read more
Published 4 months ago by jkcook
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Well-written
Covers the topics that I was interested in reading about.
This book appears to be an original work by the author, although there may be
other similar titles.
Published 10 months ago by Lloyd Rice
1.0 out of 5 stars Not written for the reader but for the writer...
Beware the nouns and pronouns, your brain? Are they talking about their brains or mine? Should be my brain. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Kay F Gibbs
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this short little book
I don't think one could have written a better book for the layman in such a small space. I was very surprised how much the author was able to cram in such a little book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Kevin
2.0 out of 5 stars A little bit too technical for an intro
After reading the reviews on this page, I was excited to read a book that would provide a "layman" like myself an easy introduction to the workings and ways of the brain. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Greg Hovanesian
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read if you are very curious and very patient.
The topic in certainly not for the casual reader.
The first part is clear and full of interesting revelations. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Roberto M. Pensotti
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