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A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention and the Four Theaters of the Brain Hardcover – January 9, 2001

63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Before consulting with customer service, it's always a good idea to read the manual. Psychiatrist John Ratey has condensed years of research on one of the most intimidating yet ubiquitous pieces of hardware in the world into the ever-handy User's Guide to the Brain. More intellectually stimulating than day-to-day practical, the Guide uses tales from Ratey's practice and other clinical venues, tidbits from neuroscientific research, and plain common sense to suggest how the brain develops and manifests personality and behavior. With section titles like "Free Will and the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus," many readers will feel intimidated, but Ratey is careful to direct his explanations to all--even those without a PhD in neuroanatomy. His interesting four-theater theory of mental function is the most directly practical section of the book, incorporating the author's years of experience with patients into a sensible framework that readers can use to better tune their own systems. Describing the changing of the guard from psychoanalysis to a more biological paradigm, Ratey writes:

Neuroscientists have, in a sense, simply taken over the elite, almost clerical office once held by analysts. The language used to describe the brain is, if anything, more opaque than any of the old psychoanalytic terminology, which was itself so obscure that only trained professionals could wade through the literature. Most people never even bother to learn such terminology, deeming that, like the language of the computer scientists of the early 1970s, it is better left to the nerds.
Determined to help us overcome our sense of helplessness in matters cranial, Ratey has shown that we can understand ourselves better and can learn quite a bit from the nerds. --Rob Lightner

From Library Journal

New developments in brain research seem to be constantly announced these days, so a competent description of the latest results for the lay reader is always welcome. Ratey, a specialist in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, organizes his material by functional categoryDdevelopment, perception, attention, memory, emotion, language, and socialization. The "Four Theaters" of the subtitle don't appear until the penultimate chapter, where the metaphor is confusingly mixed with that of the brain as a river. The final chapter, "Care and Feeding," makes the expected suggestions for keeping the brain sharp: physical and mental exercise, good nutrition, and the positive impact of spirituality on mental health. Pierce J. Howard's The Owner's Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research (Bard Pr., 2000. 2d ed.) is a better choice, although A User's Guide would be an acceptable addition for larger public libraries.DMary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Age of Unreason
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (January 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679453091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679453093
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ratey, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of numerous bestselling and groundbreaking books, including Driven to Distraction and A User's Guide to the Brain. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has a private practice. Eric Hagerman is a former editor of Popular Science and Outside. His work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2004, Men's Journal, and PLAY.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Mental problems, from hot temper to laziness, from chronic worry to excessive drinking, all have roots in the biology of the brain." (p. 357)

This is a report on a revolution taking place in neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology and kindred disciplines. The old paradigms are crumbling under the onslaught of a new understanding of how the brain really works. Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John J. Ratey's "guide" (it's more than that) is an admirable exercise in bringing us up to date on what is happening in brain science--what we suspect, what we know, and how this knowledge is affecting clinical practice.

In a sense Ratey's book is a report on a new paradigm. It is biology-based and relies first and foremost on the physiology of the brain and body as they have developed over time. Gone are the artificial constructs of Freudian psychology and the very limited black-box psychology of behaviorism. The new psychology is based on opening that black box and looking inside. Of course what we find there is enormously complex, and we are, to use Ratey's expression (p. 124), "still on the first step of a very long staircase." Yet, because of the growing power of neuroscience to study and access the living brain in ways that were impossible just a few years ago, we are entering an exciting time, full of hope and wonder.

As Dr. Ratey explains in "Acknowledgments," this book began as a cooperative research effort by many people toward writing a "primer on the brain for mental health professionals." Then it was suggested by Pantheon editor Linda Healey that a smaller version "that would try to instruct the public at large" be written. A professional science writer, Mark Fischetti, was hired and schooled.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Michael Alan Schwartz on January 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Do yourself a favor and read this book. Even better, do your doctor a favor and give a copy of this book to her or him. It's your brain, and you want to know how to care for it, tune it, nurture it and protect it. This sophisticated book -- up to date in the year 2001 -- and in remarkably clear and plain English -- and in amazing detail -- will tell you much that you need to know. And provide you a framework within which you can integrate future knowledge. When the next edition comes out, within a few years, you will want to read that one too.
January 1, 2001 marked the end of 'The Decade of the Brain' -- ten years of brain-based research focusing upon neuroscience, neuroanatomy, neurophenomenology, psychopharmacology, psychiatry and neural functioning. While this massive undertaking has been somewhat overshadowed by even more massive investigations of the human genome, it is likely that advances from brain research will have a greater impact on your life and your health. Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard Medical School professor and author or co-author of other well received previous books on neuropsychiatric conditions (eg, 'Driven to Distraction'), explains why and how, and in language that you can read even if you didn't study biology in college. Yet he never speaks down to the reader -- I am a professional medical educator myself, and I am sufficiently impressed by the breadth and depth of this book that I will recommend it to my students and colleagues. Growing knowledge about the brain is transforming our understanding of ourselves and our world, and Dr. Ratey is able to convey this information to the reader through lively descriptions and stories and through enlightening clinical vignettes.
The book is organized in a manner that is straightforward and incremental.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Bob Seay on March 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ratey explores and explains the brain in his newest book. Along the way, he introduces us to Temple Grandin, an autistic-savant with a photographic memory, a group of nuns that have historically remained mentally and physically active past the age of ninety, and other interesting characters.
These characters, their stories and Ratey's style of writing are what make the book work. Let's face it: for such a dynamic organ, most of the books written about the brain tend to be better at curing insomnia than at providing useable information. "I have decided," writes Ratey in the introduction, "that I will have to replace much of the technical language about the brain with a language more akin to what the brain itself uses." Ratey should be commended for his ability to translate. The book is still full of technical information, presented in analogies and metaphores that are easily understood. Personal stories provide a very human feel.
Ratey divides the brain into four theatres: Perception, Attention/Consciousness, Function, and Identity/Behavior. Each of these are explained and illustrated, with attention given to each areas specialty. Most interesting is his pairing of Attention and Consciousness. According to Ratey, these two are intertwined and may actually be the same thing. This is remarkable because we don't know that much about consciousness, yet understanding it is essential to understanding ourselves. "After all," Ratey says, "without consciousness little else that the brain could do would matter."
As a person with ADHD, I found this link between consciousness and attention very interesting. As I learned more about my brain, I realized that I was learning much more about myself.
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