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The Brain: A Very Short Introduction and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

The Brain: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192853929
ISBN-10: 0192853929
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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.


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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: 6.8 x 0.6 x 4.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve on 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 By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Kirk on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cronos on January 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
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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