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on 17 July 2010
There is no doubt that Robert Winston is a polymath - an eminent fertility doctor who would have aspired to be a neurosurgeon if he had his time again.
The book starts slowly with rather complex descriptions of the discovery of the actions of various regions of the brain, the chemical neurotransmitters that carry nerve impulses round the brain and the specific roles of the most common - glutamate, dopamine, adrenalin, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin. But Robert Winston has a way of holding the interest through technical sections by telling stories which bring the scientists and their trials and tribulations to life.
He describes the claims of the right /left side advocates but regards them as an oversimplification. Indeed one of the major themes of the book is the theory of the plasticity of the brain and its ability to develop with neurons repeatedly fired on a task strengthening their connection and increasing their supply of neurotransmitter so it becomes easier for them to fire in the future - or to you and me practice makes perfect.
From how the brain works he moves to how emotions are stimulated. The consensus among neuroscientists is that there are four primary emotions - fear, anger, sadness and joy. Some claim perhaps three more but Winston reckons that surprise, disgust and contempt are complex combinations of the primary emotions. Smiling, laughter, hoping and fear are investigated and the widespread desire of all humans to change moods through the use of nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and LSD.
But I found the fascination of the book grew as he moved onto the necessity for human interaction (solitary confinement is a very effective torture) and how and why, from an evolutionary standpoint, people interacted through love and lying and the fine tuning required of the brain to make continual choices based on the need to survive and reproduce.
I do not think I spoil the enjoyment of the book by revealing that the uplifting conclusion to the book is that we all have extraordinary abilities inside us and the plasticity of the brain throughout life gives us all have the opportunity to develop these abilities.
For my taste it is not Winston's best book, it is not a page turner but it continually drew me back to look round the next corner of the brain.
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I found this to be both an entertaining and informative read. The writing style is immensely easy to read and the knowledge contained within the book is truly eye opening. It covers all aspects of the brain from addiction to emotion, and memory to relationships, and more besides. I agree that Winston strays from the narrative at times, but it generally seems to be done to make a point, and I found it added to the overall entertainment of the book (after all, it's good to enjoy a book whilst you learn as well!). This is a good first book to read if you're interested in the human brain and how it works and if the interest grabs you there's plenty more out there to explore. Well worth a go, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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HALL OF FAMEon 23 November 2005
A journey of exploration means maps must be made - they aren't provided. Exploring the mind, which philosophers once claimed to do, requires maps of the brain. These are only now being created. And the mappers aren't philosophers, but cognitive scientists and medical scholars. Many maps have been made available to us in recent years. Enough maps that Robert Winston could produce a guidebook on the human mind. In this highly entertaining and informative book, Winston describes what has been learned about the brain and what it means for the mind. If anybody still thought those two elements were separate, this book should dispel that misconception.
Winston is candid about the relationship of this book to a BBC-TV series, but a media link doesn't render the information less useful. He spends the first chapters outlining the way in which measurement of brain activity has improved in recent years. This must be one of the few accounts that doesn't open with Phineas Gage and the tamping iron that pierced his skull yet left him alive, if changed in personality. Instead, Winston credits Paul Broca with finding the first "module" of brain activity [speech]. The author builds from that mid-19th Century revelation with explanations of where processing areas are located and how they operate. Brain functions were located by identifying damaged areas of afflicted patients through autopsy. Building an image of which areas of the brain performed or controlled which tasks was a painfully slow process. Not until new, non-intrusive technologies were developed did the pace of research quicken.
Winston covers a number of topics with this book, citing the work of many scholars and medical professionals. They all contributed something of interest, even if their ideas proved false. The segment on lobotomies isn't for the squeamish, and it's chastening to learn how long that procedure was sustained and how widely accepted. On a more positive note, Winston is able to show how various brain-damaging illnesses and mishaps have demonstrated the brain's power of recovery. With the billions of neurons exchanging singles around the brain, damage there or to body organs may lead to the brain shifting signal paths. While the brain can't "heal" itself, it can move emphasis from one area to another. This is part of the reason why someone blinded can achieve enhanced hearing capacity. The neuronal areas processing visual information are shifted in duties to deal with sound.
This isn't only a guidebook to what is going on in the brain. It's also a user's manual in maintenance and upkeep. He explains the evolutionary roots of many of our habits. Why, for example, do we sleep? Our helpless condition during sleeping made us vulnerable to predators. Did sleep make us more alert when awake? Winston spends a good deal of time in explaining how necessary sleep and rest are to the brain. He notes the importance of dreams as a means of rearranging and prioritising our memory cargo. The recovery enabled by sleep makes us more receptive to new information.
However, some new practices overturn the benefits of sleep. There are impairments to the regular operations of the brain resulting from the use of various chemicals. Winston's long list and analysis of what damages brain cells and their processes would make a Puritan smile. From nicotine to alcohol, he presents a gloomy picture of how easy it is to reduce your brain's capacity to process information or retrieve memories needed. The processing and use of information is what the brain does to establish what we call the "mind". Even though surgeons can probe the brain without your feeling anything, this "lump of porridge" inside your skull is vulnerable.
Winston has a great store of information to provide us in this topic. The amount of research that's gone into how the brain works is vast, and growing. He describes clearly the various instruments that now measure brain activity while we're talking, reading, or even answering the investigator's questions. We can be shown pleasant scenes, horrifying events or simply add a column of figures while our brains tell the machine which areas are active in each circumstance. With diagrams, some photographs and a working bibliography, this is a fine book to use as a starting point for understanding what is going on in there. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 15 November 2006
I'll start out with the positive stuff. I really enjoyed reading this book, Robert Winston covers a lot of topic areas of all aspects of the human mind. He has convinced me that the human brain is truly amazing.

However, this book could have been condensed into something 1/4 of the size. The book appears to have been written in a rush. Aside from the frequent typed errors, there is WAY too much waffle, I bought the book because I wanted to learn about the human brain, not about Winstons interest in literature, climbing, making his first documentary or his fascination with theatre. He talks about the play Hamlet for several pages! Why? It's completely unnecessary and makes me think Winston had some publishing obligation to write a book of 450 pages long. The science is good, it would have been nice to have read something which got to the point better.
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on 24 February 2004
This is a spectacular book. Ever since the BBC showed Professor Robert Winston's findings, I was really interested.
It has given me a whole new perspective on life - instead of the plain, simple casual life people have today. Professor Robert Winston has combined all of the 'hidden' things we never see in life, covering many aspects.
He has described how we can harness our powers and use them to give better results. One particular aspects I like is overcoming fears.
Some readers may find that the parts of the brain he discusses are difficult to remember, but the methods he gives are easy to use and can be entertaining at times.
Overall, I think this is a very powerful book as it has changed my view on the world to make a better today.
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on 31 July 2005
Amazing facts portrayed by Robert Winston concering the Human Mind and all its capabilities and incapacities. Once I finished reading it, I thought a second read in the near future would be a must. 'The Human Mind: And How to Make the Most of it' won't let you down.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 September 2011
Dedicated to Professors Colin Blakemore and Richard Dawkins ... "who have led where others of us hope to follow", this is Robert Winston's eighth book stemming from a television series of the same name; occasionally while reading it, one wonders where they led and is Robert Winston following. After a short consideration, readers will realise they advanced the public understanding of science and Winston is pursuing the same route. Written in a style which makes its content easily accessible to non-scientists, he has organized it in a sensible, "everyday" way, giving it the feel of a wide-ranging conversation well-informed but chatty people might have at the pub.

Body, brain and mind - examining terms and what we mean by them
How does your brain work? - the functioning of the mind
Coming to your senses - functions of the brain and how the senses operate
Paying attention - sleep and consciousness
The emotional mind - how emotions affect our lives and consciousness
The learning mind - how we learn, why we don't and how to improve it
A question of character - questions of individual identity
The loving mind - the nature of love, what it is and happens when it goes wrong
The amazing mind: intelligence, creativity and intuition - overviews and how to improve it

With its origins in a "magazine-type" television programme with a basis in science but examples drawn from the real world of science and medicine, i.e. the theories and how we experience them in real people, it might annoy some people because it does not get to the heart of the science quickly enough or reveals too much of its author's life. I know some people who felt he appeared too often in the programme as the talking head.

Having written that, I enjoyed the book; far from annoying me, I found the anecdotes and examples helpful, constantly reminding me that we are not all average, accidents happen and reveal a great deal, knowledge advances in some fascinatingly unexpected ways and doctors have to deal with real people every day - not theories. Whether readers enjoy it or now will depend on one thing - their human mind,
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on 14 January 2010
I found this book interesting. It takes the reader through the science of the moment, giving lay people a quick look at what science can tell us about ourselves. It's then for the really inquisitive reader to look into matters further, and this is possible since most references are supplied.
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on 6 April 2016
I am a neuroscientist, and found this book incredibly informative. It is ideal for beginners to the subject, or those who just have a particular interest in the mind and neuroscience. Definitely worth a read!
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on 15 December 2015
This memorable book introduced me to the wonders of neurology as an early teen, and is a good jumping off point for more academic study. Very easy to read and un-put-downable.
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