The Brain: A Very Short Introduction
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2007
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
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
on April 15, 2013
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
on January 15, 2012
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.

All in all, I found a pleasure reading this book because of its clarity, objectivity, and engaging style. The author manages to provide a surprisingly up to dated and comprehensive account of the state of the art in brain research despite its 144 pages. The sequence of the presentation is logical, the writing is effective and never boring, and the case-examples are very well-chosen. Suggestions for further reading are also to be found as an appendix. All in all, a highly recommended no-nonsense book that is a must for those interesting to get quickly acquainted with this most surprising and complex structures that is the human brain.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2012
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. But I was disappointed with what I read. The first two chapters were great, and truly were introductory and easy to read: the first was a basic introduction to the brain, and the second provided reviewed the history of brain research through the ages. Starting with Chapter 3, however, the book became overally technical and difficult to read. The Chapter on memory was interesting, and overall I did learn things, but as a "layman", I found myself very confused and overwhelmed as I struggled to make it through what I found to be a very 'Non-Introductory' introduction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2012
The topic in certainly not for the casual reader.
The first part is clear and full of interesting revelations.
The second part is a little too technical for the layman, but rewarding if you stick to it.
At the beginning of the book I would have liked a clear description of the parts of a human brain with 3D pictures and 2D sections.
Otherwise, a good book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2012
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. For those who are complaining about the difficulties in understanding all I can say is I understood everything just fine and I am by no means a neuroscientist. Besides, the topic is the brain, that's kind of like picking up a book on particle physics for the laymen and then complaining that it was too complicated to understand. You can make these kinds of subjects only so simple.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2014
This was one of the first ebooks that I bought from the Kindle store. It is an ultra-brief introduction to your brain. I don't recommend reading it if you have any background in the field of human biology or the nervous system. Nonetheless the book is accessible and thought-provoking. With the launch of Obama's BRAIN Initiative, I would not mind an updated version by Michael O'Shea.

Here are a few little nuggets I've highlighted in the book to give you a taste of it:

"If the connections in the whole brain were untraveled, the strand would be long enough to encircle the earth twice."

"If you had to consciously think about the mechanical processes of reading, you would be illiterate!"

"In the brain electricity is the critically important currency of information flow."

"If we trace the evolution of the human brain, the greatest and most rapid growth has occurred in the frontal lobes of the cortex."

"Synaptic change or plasticity is fundamental to learning and memory."

"Thinking machines, perhaps even with consciousness, could be evolved using genetic algorithms?"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2014
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.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In this book readers will discover basic information about the most pertinent questions about the brain any educated person might ask. They include, 1) how does the brain function? 2) What makes it 'go'? 3) How has the history of neurology unfolded? What were the most important break throughs and what incorrect theories held the field back? 4) What neurology and computers and the use of the brain in conjunction with man made machines? Finally, matters of functional problems of teh brain are addressed and the latest in research and breakthroughs are noted. A generous reading list for each chapter is provided at the end of the book making this little book exactly what the title says: a very short, but nonetheless comprehensive introduction.
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