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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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“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.”
“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”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“A remarkable book ... a highly readable exploration of a branch of science that has the potential to change all our lives.”
“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
About the Author
Norman Doidge, M.D., is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and New York Times bestselling author. He is on the Research Faculty at Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York, and on the faculty at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry. He and his work have been profiled and cited in, among others, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, Scientific American Mind, Melbourne Age, The Guardian, The Harvard Review of Psychiatry, Psychology Today, O The Oprah Magazine, and the National Review.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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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! These, unfortunately, are primarily openings for marketers rather than scientific realities. Of course we have some control, and the key findings of neural plasticity research have been helpful in supporting that, but there are some things that are not just about effort--but also about care and community. Overall, I did find this book interesting and worth reading, but also found myself worried about what seemed to me strategic exaggeration.
Doidge, a Freudian psychoanalyst, has no training in neurobiology, and prior to this book has published next to nothing relevant to the topic. He makes two fundamental errors in the way he tells his story.
The first of these is the division he makes between "localizationists" and "neuroplasticians". No one working in neuroscience would take seriously the straw man position that Doidge puts forth for localizationists, that there is "one location, one function" and that the brain operates as an unchangeable machine. It is one of the most fundamental axioms of neuroscience that neural changes underlie any learning mechanism. No one would seriously postulate that brains *don't* change a great deal during the life of an organism. Even those involved in the practice of understanding how functions are localized (e.g., speech in the left hemisphere) would not suggest that there is anything special or unchangeable about the physical location, that this location couldn't change after brain injury. Mainstream neuroscience, not a marginalized fringe, has long been aware of the adaptations and plasticity that can happen after a stroke or other brain damage. Doidge seriously misrepresents himself as the champion of a movement.
The second error is the implication that brains are infinitely malleable. He presents a cherry-picked set of case studies and select experiments that might suggest that this is the case, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest exactly the opposite conclusion. Doidge even goes as far as to intimate that any neurological condition can be fixed with the right training. Autism, dyslexia, maybe even Alzheimer's. This is seriously misleading at best.
One of the traps that Doidge falls into is the excessive use of "brainspeak". Many of the examples and implications that he talks about are behavioral, and a brain description is really not the appropriate level. After a while, the term "brain map" has lost a good deal of it's punch as it's applied to anything at all. He suggests that Freud was ahead of his time because, in essence, psychotherapy is "changing your brain maps". Well, yes. But so is any learning at all; there's no privileged place for psychoanalysis. In essence, Doidge is trying to convince you that evidence for brain plasticity should let you know that YOUR brain (and life) can be changed. But in many ways the brainspeak is an unnecessary diversion. The world is full of stories of personal triumph, and those enough are evidence that personal triumph is possible.