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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2011
A very readable introduction to brain plasticity. The book is full of examples about how the brain adapts to damage and changing circumstances and requirements of the body. Mr Doidge lambasts the long held view of brain "localization" (specialised areas for different functions, e.g. Broca's area), through case studies of autism and stroke treatments amongst others.

Unfortunately the book lacks any critical analysis of its subjects. All Dr Doidge's subjects are heroes who battled for years against mainstream science. One example is the Fast ForWord learning program - a quick Google shows that the program is maybe not as successful as the author claims (or has been commercialised into areas for which is less suitable).

There is a chapter on Psychoanalysis using one of Dr Doidge's former patients as a case study, which didn't seem to fit the theme of the book (and reminded me of Frasier!)

Dr Doidge has no moral doubt about the use of animals (even cute ones) for experiments. As a lay reader, I found the casual description of brain surgery and permanent disability inflicted on monkeys a little shocking. The experiments have value, but the monkey's rights shouldn't be dismissed quite so completely.

Still, a very interesting book.
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239 of 243 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 January 2010
This is an interesting and readable book, and it clearly has created a lot of interest in the subject. It covers a range of topics relating to neural plasticity, which is not quite such a new topic as the author would have us believe. The strength of the book is the writing style and how accessible it is.

However, I would urge readers to approach this book with a degree of caution, or dare I say take it with a pinch of salt. What the author fails to do is apply any real level of critical appraisal to the material he covers. Some of the material covered has a substantial evidence base, some of it has a shaky evidence base, some has no evidence base whatsoever and is pure conjecture. If I take the example of constraint-induced therapy, originating from a psychologist called Taub, which I went away and read up on quite extensively following the claims made in this book. This is a treament for hemiplegia following stroke, whereby the good arm is constrained for several hours each day, thus forcing the person to use their bad arm. The logic behind this is that this will prevent learned non-use and also facilitate some cortical remapping, so that that control of that arm is taken over by in-tact brain areas. When you look at the evidence, a lot of which is pretty good quality research, this is not anything like the panacea that Doidge presents it to be. There are only a proportion of patients this works for, it is still unclear what the best protocol for its use is, and there is a lack of evidence for it producing lasting, long-term gains. A recent Cochrane review concluded that there was not enough evidence to say clearly whether it was effective or not, so the jury is still out.

Some of the education-related material was based on one particular programme. When looking at the references, all the evidence seemed to come from one source, and was not published in peer-reviewed journals (i.e. had not been scrutinised by the scientific community). About the highest level of publication appeared to be a poster presented at a conference.

As another reviewer mentioned, the chapter on sexuality seemed to be pure conjecture.

Do I regret reading it? No, it entertained me, and annoyed me in equal measure, but consequently prompted me to do further reading. So I have to say I benefitted from reading it, and would probably recommend it to others. But please approach it with a critical mind.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Just after reading a book on similar topics which I found disappointing (Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain), this was far better. Each chapter tackles a manageable issue, and most of them focus on a single individual who has overcome a brain-related problem, stiking a good balance between human interest and explanation of the underlying science. I was a bit surprised to see not a single picture in the whole book, but perhaps the simple truth (demonstrated quite dramatically in the other book!) is that printable pictures or diagrams of brains don't tell us that much.

A couple of minor gripes: there's a bit too much description of experiments as "brilliant" rather than saying why they're brilliant. And there's an irritating bit of design: paragraphs start in the sanserif font used for headings, and then lurch to a serif font after about five words. Not an elegant idea.
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141 of 149 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2008
Norman Doidge has written an eminently readable and interesting book about advances in the understanding of brain function, perception, learning, and response to injury. He also illustrates how these advances are informing the development of more effective treatments and interventions for conditions as diverse as strokes and addiction.

However, the book is somewhat spoiled by the over-congratulatory tenor of the prose, and the over-enthusiastic application of these ideas to every aspect of human behaviour. It is ironic that he spends so much time lambasting the 'localizationalists' (bizarrely portrayed as a kind of establishment mafia hell-bent on stifling research) for over-extending their ideas whilst he undertakes similar mental gymnastics in his attempts to demonstrate that every condition - from autism to pornography addiction - can be wholly explained by brain plasticity.

And this is where the book ultimately falls down as a science book. In many cases he asserts 'facts' to support his hypotheses which are simply wrong - facts which the rather poorly referenced and constructed end-notes are silent on. The chapter on sexuality is particularly cringeworthy, as he trots out a number of bizarre assertions, social commentary and outdated Freudian concepts to build his arguments, apparently unaware of the rich depth and detail of research in this area which in some cases contradicts his hypotheses.

Is this an interesting book worth reading? Yes. But that comes with a warning that it contains the over-generalisations and unwarranted assumptions that, so often, are found in sloppy science - both 'popular' and academic.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2009
This book is full of interesting information about the human brain.It is very inspiring to read the incredible stories about people who's brains have adapted to their various problems, like being born with half a brain! This book is a good resource for readers who want help with various difficulties, like dyslexia etc. Being over 70 myself, I have found the book exciting and have subscribed to Sharp Brains, which claims to stimulate the aging brain through different exercises. I think it's working!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the first books I read on neuroscience and I strongly recommend it. It is full of fascinating and inspiring cases and excellent information about how we can use our mind to shape our brain, and improve performance and satisfaction. It's not a heavy read at all, but you feel you are getting access to 'proper science'. Great resource for coaches.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2009
Norman Doidge's "The Brain that Changes Itself" is a very readable and inspiring collection of stories. It is high time that the research and findings (not to mention empirical evidence) on the plasticity of the brain re-balances the accepted orthodoxy of the last century that dictated the brain was a fixed organ that laid down immutable neuronal networks early in life with no, or little, hope of any change. Doidge's book brings to light the work of a number of physicians, scientists and clinicians who are helping people with previously considered intractable conditions to live healthy and fulfilling lives. The brain really is a living organism that is continually adapting, growing and changing. "The Brain that Changes Itself" is full of wonderful personal stories underpinned by solid scientific evidence presented clearly and without fanfare.

There may be a few inaccuracies within these pages but this would be to quibble. On the whole I found Norman Doidge's book well-researched and am grateful for this book. I recommend this book and hope it gains wide readership.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Bought this as present for a friend. Got so engrossed reading it that I had to buy further copies for more than the one friend! It is an excellent read in straight forward English, although about quite a specialised scientific subject - the latest developments in neuroscience. What particularly impressed me is the combination of the clearly outlined modern theoretical framework of the plasticity of the brain, in contrast to earlier views that specific parts of the brain had specific functions. Furthermore, theory is combined with highly illuminating case studies of a great variety of patients, who have benefited through the recognition of new theory because this has opened up new methods for self improvement after illness or accident, and / or dramatic changes as a result of professional help. We, even the elderly (of whom I am one), can do so much to help ourselves. Keep on learning new things. The message about the brain is: "Use it or Lose it!" Rene Branton-Saran
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The book gives the message that all sorts of amazing things can be done through lots of brain retraining work, but doesn't claim that it is a quick and easy cure for everything either, which I appreciated.

Some people are taking the idea of neuroplasticity and running with it and maybe going a bit too far and claiming that we can retrain our brains to be any way we want (such as choosing our sexuality), and to use it to cure completely every neurological disease. It is disturbing. But this book doesn't at all support these sorts of unreasonable notions, fortunately.

This book explains that amazing changes can be made to improve people with congenital issues, diseases or brain injuries or that wish to reverse negative learned behaviours - but that these changes take lots of hard work and also that they are limited in some cases. Recovery from brain injuries will often be partial and not total. Not all neurological function that is lost through a brain injury can be fully restored. All we can do is try our hardest and do our best.

(The idea that everyone so injured could be totally well again if they just put the time into rehabilitation worries me a little. Again, this idea is not supported in the book, I'm referring to worrying and ignorant comments made elsewhere.)

Partial recoveries are still very very exciting though and nothing to sneeze at, especially when people are very ill and disabled to begin with. It is very exciting stuff, this book.

This book would be very encouraging to read for those who have had strokes and would like to learn to walk again. The bits at the start of the book about how neuroplasticity may allow people that are blind or deaf from birth to see and to hear, were astounding to read about.

I was fascinated to read about how one can compensate for a failed vestibular system with vision, as this is something I and many other M.E. patients have done.

I couldn't help but think about this compensation in M.E. patients as I read the book. It is a natural phenomena, which is kind of fascinating to me. But it is only a partial solution - which sort of supports the notions in this book of targeted and purposeful brain retraining being so powerful I guess.

This natural brain retraining of the vestibular system works well, but leaves you in a hideous situation if you are even plunged into a totally dark environment - such as when the power goes out. You suddenly have no sense of up or down and the world spins horribly, so much so that you are too ill to crawl towards the torch or lighter that can save you.

I keep torches within reach in every room I spend time in, I have to. This problem also means many of us need to sleep with a nightlight, as your body seems to need to know up from down when you are sleeping too. I also need to make sure when I walk that nothing in the room moves, or else I feel about to fall over and lose my equilibrium for a few minutes and have to clutch at things to not fall over.

But far better all these problems than going back to when I didn't really have any sort of vastibular system and would be constantly spinning and feeling I was rolling off my flat bed, or feel I was falling backwards the whole time I was walking upright! As the women in the book said too, it is also awful always walking with your feet so wide apart for balance as well. I'm so used to it now, but it would be wonderful to one day no longer have to do so! Maybe in time, and with the ideas in this book put into use, this could happen? I'd like to think so.

Reading about how well-known these visual compensations for vestibular problems are was a bit hard going for me at times, as it made me quite annoyed and sad that so few doctors and neurologists seem to know about them and that we as patients are each treated as if this problem were unique to us, when it is so obviously not. The woman with vestibular symptoms mentioned in this book described my symptoms so well. It is a bit maddening how behind with real cutting-edge research and information so many medical professionals are.

If I can improve my health to the point of being out and about in the world again, and my vestibular function hasn't improved along with the rest of me, I'll definitely try the under-tongue vestibular re-trainer device (I forget the proper name for it used in the book!) if I can.

This book was exciting to read and gave me hope for my future and one day being able to try out some of these ideas for myself. But for right now, with a brain injury that also has had systemic effects and caused cardiac insufficiency and an inability to do anything but the most basic tasks (I'm housebound and 95% bedbound and very limited with talking and movement etc. as well), it is impossible and would result in relapse and loss of function rather than improvements. Having an ongoing disease process which means your activity level is severely restricted as well as neurological problems is a different kettle of fish to fixing neurological issues which are not ongoing, such as a stroke, say. You need to be able to put the work in, and not have a disease which is worsening for physical reasons too I guess. But hope for the future is still hope.

The parts supporting animal studies in the book made me feel quite uncomfortable. I would personally rather they had been omitted from the book as they detract from the important main message.

I also have to admit that I was a bit disappointed after reading the book and hearing so many good things said about it that it wasn't edited to a somewhat higher standard, and organised a bit better. Parts of the book were quite boring to read and it'd have been great if the book had summarised the main points in the final chapter instead of just kind of petering out. The book was well written, but could maybe have been made even better with a good edit.

All through the book I kept wondering how much more positive the results from these treatments would be if they were combined with patients being given all the nutrients their brains need to function well and to heal. Nutritional medicine is vital for anyone recovering form a brain injury or similar, the body needs to have all the basic building blocks necessary to make repairs and to function properly, no matter what other treatments are tried. Although this topic is mostly ignored in this book, there was one comment towards the end where the author said that although nutrition was not his area that a properly designed supplement regime is 'a common practice that we should all be pursuing' which is hard to argue with.

For anyone interested in this topic books such as Detoxify or Die, Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats, Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food and Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life and others are a great start. (These books and others like them have let me very slowly start to improve my own health, FWIW.)

Overall this book is a fascinating and engaging read, especially if you are facing a neurological disease or other neurological problem. I'd highly recommend checking to see if your library has a copy. The books on neurological case studies by Oliver Sacks are also a very interesting read if you have any type of brain injury.

Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
This is the most interesting book I've read about brain science . . . and the most relevant. I highly recommend you read it!

If you haven't been following brain science, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Recent experiments have overturned a long-held tenant of brain science: That specific mental and bodily functions can only be directed from one location in the brain. Destroy that section and physicians have told you that you were out of luck. This conclusion doomed many who had suffered strokes and other brain injuries to having no hope of improvement.

The good news, as described in this easy-to-understand popular treatment, is that the brain can actually relocate functions to new areas if the primary site is destroyed. As a result, stroke victims can gain control over movements by therapy designed to disable their abler body areas . . . forcing the brain to establish new circuits to control the areas with little or no control; the blind can learn to "see" using sensor inputs from other areas of their bodies; those without balance can relearn balance through using other feedback mechanisms; and those with "phantom" pain tied to missing limbs can trigger elimination of that sensation. The only continuing limitation seems to be that some areas of the brain are only open to maximum flexibility during short periods of life. But promising research suggests that biochemical tools may be able to reopen those pathways to progress.

Chances are that your physician won't know about all of these advanced therapies. If you or someone you know has neurological disorders, you should read this book to see where to send them for help.

Be sure to check out the sections on how psychoanalysis can be used to rewire the brain to change sensations, reactions, and behavior, and the appendices on cultural impacts on the brain and the potential for perfectibility.
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