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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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From Publishers Weekly
For years the doctrine of neuroscientists has been that the brain is a machine: break a part and you lose that function permanently. But more and more evidence is turning up to show that the brain can rewire itself, even in the face of catastrophic trauma: essentially, the functions of the brain can be strengthened just like a weak muscle. Scientists have taught a woman with damaged inner ears, who for five years had had "a sense of perpetual falling," to regain her sense of balance with a sensor on her tongue, and a stroke victim to recover the ability to walk although 97% of the nerves from the cerebral cortex to the spine were destroyed. With detailed case studies reminiscent of Oliver Sachs, combined with extensive interviews with lead researchers, Doidge, a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Columbia and the University of Toronto, slowly turns everything we thought we knew about the brain upside down. He is, perhaps, overenthusiastic about the possibilities, believing that this new science can fix every neurological problem, from learning disabilities to blindness. But Doidge writes interestingly and engagingly about some of the least understood marvels of the brain. (Mar. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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
Top customer reviews
Dr. Doidge's book is a beautiful presentation of the human story behind the scenes -- including that of the researchers who committed their lives to this work as well as of the patients who discovered hope and help through it. No particular science background is required, because he does a wonderful job of explaining just what's needed in lay language. I had a hard time putting it aside even to sleep!!!
Comments specific to the Kindle Edition Only
My major reservation and why the book receives 4 rather than 5 stars regards a dilemma with presenting it on Kindle media. Interestingly Dr. Doidge starts to evaluate the role of technology and media in influencing our brain function -- given its ready plasticity. He discussed TV, internet, video games, and the printing press, but unfortunately not Kindle versions of e-books, including his.
Itt would be valuable to address what was gained and lost with the Kindle version. Because Kindle is still a relatively new media -- now is the best time to exercise its own plasticity toward better wholeness.
Positive sparks for the Kindle: I indeed like the ability to receive the book within minutes of purchase. I like not needing to prop it open on the table in order to keep my place. I like not being tempted to fold over a page edge when the book won't stay propped or needing to scramble for some scrap paper to tear up and insert. It is a relief to be able to add notes which don't clutter up the margins with scribbled lines and highlights.
However, some negative Kindling was ignited as well trying to make my way through this book -- particularly over the loss of context and critical visuo-spatial clues. Reading is not a strictly linear activity. There were key features of the global spatial organization that are sadly missing in the Kindle version. Examples:
1. There are no clues as to what chapter you are reading once you have dived into one. So if you lay down your Kindle and resume latter...who knows? Many non-fiction books would have a header or footer on every page as a reminder or you can rapidly flip a chunk of pages in a matter of milliseconds to find out. Much more tedious to page backwards or forwards an unknown number of "location blocks" to find out. (Instead of page numbers you are shown locations blocks.) There are several potential solutions -- having a menu item that zooms out to context information like this, or implementing better use of the horizontal position bar at the bottom of the screen so that instead of showing you the percentage of the entire book you have passed through, the bar at least shows where you are with respect to major chapter divisions as a contextual map.
2. Finding natural rest breaks is nearly impossible. I like to have an idea how far into a chapter I have progressed, and whether reading just a couple more pages will leave off at a "good stopping point" (i.e. after a good night's sleep). Not possible. The progress marker at the bottom of the text refers to what percent of >7000 locations you have completed -- which refers to the percentage of the whole book. The only thing less useful would be to tell me how many words or characters I've completed out of the whole.
3. Use of supplmentary material is very cumbersome. After the first chapter or so, I like to know the scope of the remaining text, how much is really text versus supplements. How good the supplements and illustrations are and how they would be used while reading the text. Yes...I really do want to know what is actually in the appendices so I can see if I will use them as I am reading. Again. Not much to go on here. In this book the appendices do contain several items but these are not cataloged in the table of contents -- its a total mystery box. Once you start into Appendix 1 or Appendix 2 you can't tell what is coming up next or where you are within and between the internal sections. You don't know whether you will miss something valuable or not without going through every single screen. You can't perform a search for something you don't know yet is there.
4. The index likewise is not helpful other than to serve as a reminder of key phrases in the book. These do not work as links back to the relevant part of the text. No location or page numbers are shown. No frequency of occurrences is given. Nothing to suggest any relative perspective about where in the book the information occurs.
Instead you must type the phrases one at a time into the search box. I do like some features of the the resulting list of occurrences for that word or phrase, the 2-4 line capture of the surrounding sentence(s) and the ability now to link back to the text. However, most of the critical context is still lost. There is no easy way to "zoom out" and see whether the clip you have been transported to is in chapter three, five or chapter nine. You don't know if the topic covers a range of several pages and is a major occurrence or whether it is single line/paragraph hit. You can't tell whether it is before, after or anywhere near the passage where you remember reading about a favorite or related phenomenon. Looking up the related phenomenon next might help; however, it is likewise floating adrift in a contextless sea. I do realize that one can look at the location numbers. But these are so ridiculously large and not subdivided into chapters -- they are relatively meaningless. At least some memory functions work by chunking -- but these chunks need to have meaning!!
5. Similar constraints limit the usefulness of the notes section. they are not easily associated with the text to which they refer, nor is it easy to find them chapter by chapter -- only as giant a "clump" at the end.
It seems possible that an unfortunate side-effect of engaging in Kindle- reading, until these contextual and spatial clues are restored, would actually interfere with the forms of photographic memory unconsciously employed by most of us and especially by those who have a gift for photographic memory. It becomes nearly impossible to stamp into memory 7000 locations devoid of almost all other landmarks and that change based on text size. A truly functional and fascinating part of our brain function is potentially sacrificed.
Thus, I think it would be useful to gather some master publishers of printed works along with Dr. Doidge and the best of these surviving neuroscientists/neuroengineers he interviewed and put them into a think tank project -- these creative minds and Amazon's Kindle developers need to invest a bit more thought into ways to maximize the Kindle interface with: a)this book, and b) the human brain.
Surrendering so many visuospatial and organizational cues for contextless leaps between linear text clusters does not seem like a productive tradeoff to me. Neuroscience professionals working out these dilemmas on his intriguing book could solve similar problems for many other books -- the nonfiction and academic books are most in need. Navigating a novel with only a few trail markers may be fine. But not so fine for the less narrative works; its an especially vulnerable way to travel for anything academic.
Over time publishers have acquired a great deal of information about the organization and contextual patterns which truly improve understanding, learning, recall and motivation to return to a book for reference purposes. I really don't want to give up this acumulated wisdom. So far computer assisted publishing has added substantial depth to the ordering and visual aspects of the printed page. So...now with the Kindle...let's truly improve rather than just subtract contextual and multisensory clues.
I'd rather not rewire my brain backwards toward chaos through my exposure to Kindle books.