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The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind Paperback – February 22, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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  • The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
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  • The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Along with bulging waistlines and graying hair, declining mental faculties have long been seen as an inevitable drawback of middle age. When New York Times science editor Strauch first began research for this follow-up to The Primal Teen (2004), her book on adolescent intelligence, faltering midlife brain fitness was considered a given. To her pleasant surprise, her forays into contemporary neuroscience revealed a reassuring discovery. Aside from usual short-term memory lapses of forgetting names and mislaying keys, the middle-aged brain is more vigorous, organized, and flexible than has been previously believed. In 11 easily digested chapters, Strauch overviews the latest findings of high-tech brain scans and psychological testing that demonstrate cognitive expertise reaching its peak in middle age. Although distractions and oversights may more easily prey on the mind, the continued growth of myelin (or white matter) increases problem-solving skills, pattern recognition, and even wisdom. Supplemented by a section on keeping one’s brain in top shape, Strauch’s work proffers a welcome dose of optimism to every aging baby boomer. --Carl Hays --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Praise for The Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch

"Provocative...A contender for every parent's reading list."

"Upends the longstanding belief that the teenage brain is largely complete, concluding instead that it is undergoing dramatic changes that can help explain what appears to be a gap between intelligence and judgement."
-The Hartford Courant

"This is such a smart book...Barbara Strauch acts as a world-class guide to a mysterious place, taking us on a journey through the teenage brain and making sense of the scenery. In turns funny, curious, explanatory, vivid, she does an absolutely compelling job of helping us to understand our children-and ourselves."
-Deborah Blum, author of Love at GoonPark: Hanny Harlow and the Science of Affection

"Through interviews with parents, physicians, neuroscientists, and teens, Strauch has compiled impressive insights about the nature of being a teen or the parent of one."
-Science News

"Entertaining as well as informative."
-Teacher magazine

"An intriguing look at cutting-edge studies that now tell us the brain is not finished growing in a child's early years but continues into the teens."
-The Plain Dealer

"Can knowing more about the teenager's brain help us to understand the teenager's behavior? Can an account of the neuroscience of adolescence be lively and readable? Barbara Strauch provides convincing evidence that the answer to both questions is yes."
-Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do

"Readers will be struck by the wonderfully candid comments by those interviewed as well as Strauch's insightful narrative."
-Publishers Weekly

"Strauch's well-researched book explains studies that were impossible, without such advanced technology as the MRI in clear, compassionate, layperson's language...A parents' must-read."

"Strauch [has]...a light, anecdotal style and a sense of humor. This is a very useful book...[These] are conclusions parents will want to consider carefull."
-The Washington Post Book World

"Strauch tackles [loaded questions] with all the scientific instruments at her disposal...the latest findings neurological, biochemical, and psychological, with an illuminating dose of anecdote thrown in."
-The New Scientist

"An important book...Strauch writes masterfully, making scientific research understandable to lay readers."
-Library Journal (starred)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143118870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143118879
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #894,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's news that should be good for all of us humans. As the years go by, and we work at what we do, we grow older and wiser.

Barbara Strauch has written a fascinating and readable book about how our minds age, and how we get better as we get older, a lot older. If you are in your fifties and feel that you know far more about what you are doing now, than you did twenty or even ten years ago, science bears you out. According to The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, we get smarter meaning that our judgment improves, our ability to see the big picture improves, our ability to read people improves. We become better managers, better parents, better leaders--even better air traffic controllers! We are more emotionally stable and often more creative.

What's interesting about this book is that its not a philosophical nor a political argument. It's a book based on scientific research. Strauch uses both people studies and research from neuroscientists, psychologists etc. to explain that our brains grow far more than we ever realized, into our 60s. While we lose one kind of brain cell, we increase others. And, studies of people in their 70s today indicate that people are smarter and more able to do things like solve puzzles than the people of the same age 15 years ago.

But this is not a book about how humanity is getting smarter, it's a book that looks into the human brain and how evolution has designed a middle-aged brain to be, in many ways, more able than the twenty-five year old version. Yes that twenty-five year old can keep from hitting the squirrel in the road more easily but life is more than reflexes.
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Format: Hardcover
It's not true! Your brain doesn't get weaker with middle age. In fact, much of it gets stronger! This book, written by New York Times science editor Barbara Strauch, explains the scientific basis behind this phenomenon. The hardback describes the latest research in an easy-to-follow and interesting way.

It makes sense that the brain's capacity for complex thought reaches its peak in middle age. That's the time of life when people need to be at their best in terms of productivity and reasoning. It's the ultimate age to juggle responsibilities.

The last sections of the book explain how tip-top brain function can be maintained, covering ideas as varied as solving crossword puzzles to learning how to play the piano. Just like with the body, the brain benefits from exercise.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in how the brain works, and how to maximize sharp thinking through middle age and beyond.

Here's the chapter list:

Introduction: The Changing Landscape of Middle Age

Part One: The Powers That Be
1. Am I Losing My Mind?
Sometimes, but the gains beat the losses
2. The Best Brains of Our Lives.
A bit slower, but so much better
3. A Brighter Pace.
I'm so glad I'm not young anymore
4. Experience. Judgement. Wisdom.
Do we really know what we're talking about?
5. The Middle in Motion
The midlife crisis conspiracy

Part Two: The Inner Workings
6. What Changes with Time
Glitches the brain learns to deal with
7. Two Brains Are Better Than One
Especially inside one head
8. Extra Brainpower
A reservoir tap when needed

Part Three: Healthier Brains
9. Keep Moving and Keep Your Wits
Exercise builds brains
10. Food for Thought
And a few other substances, as well
11. The Brain Gym
Toning up your circuits

Epilogue: A New Place for Better, Longer Lives
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first heard about this book when the author, Barbara Strauch, was interviewed on NPR a few days ago. It might have been Diane Rehm. Or was it Terry Gross? Maybe All Things Considered, the one hosted by Neil--oops, Neil who? After all I've only been listening for years now.
Okay, my point is made. I think I no longer have a middle-aged brain/mind ('m almost 69). But when I read this book, I certainly found myself there and happily so, saying to myself that this could easily be about the early elderly-mind brain. Okay, so I admit that I failed on the math problem (page 12), but I would have failed that decades ago. I simply don't think that way. But verbally, hey, I'm fine. And when I teach my writing class at a local college, I can rattle off all types of information, putting those young minds to shame. But for the moment I still cannot remember the name of that host of All Things Considered. But that is now okay. And why? Because I read this wonderful, very readable book. As soon as I post this, it will come to me. But someone once wrote, "What's in a name?..." And, yes, I know who that someone is!
I probably would not be much concerned about the issue of forgetfulness except my domestic partner of many years is and undoubtedly with good reasons since his mother was the victim of Alzheimer's. He is certain he is well on the way himself. And now I am eager to hand this book over to him and ask if maybe he might be well within the norm, especially since we are both at a very high end of middle-age (that is called denial since we are at the low end of elderly-aged mind according to Ms. Strauch). There is plenty of research for those interested in "the facts." But it is not loaded on; instead it comes in bite-size portions along with the more personal stories that I easily related to.
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