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on 27 September 2001
The book is cleverly structured. Ratey draws you in by beginning each chapter with an account of a real person's perceptual difficulties, the problems these caused in their daily lives because of misdiagnosis and their eventual relief once the real cause was recognized - physical malfunction in the brain. The chapter then becomes more involved as we move away from the personal account to consider how the brain works with regard to the problems described. But the explanation is never overly technical and can easily be grasped by the non-specialist reader. A great deal of trouble has obviously been taken to carefully select the case studies and to present the material in plain English. The writing is concise. Technical terms are always explained when first used. People who are interested in the treatment of depression will find this book very useful. Although depression is not discussed as such, it may come as a revelation to some that we can actually train our brains to 'undepress' ourselves. Anti-depressant drugs, such as the SSRIs, certainly have a role to play but a reading of this book should convince anyone that drugs are by no means the whole answer.
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on 11 September 2001
This book talks about the brain in a very simple way,without being simplistic.Full of examples and without becoming tiring it keeps the reader interested as it explains how the brain plays the most vital role in many disorders that have been considered psychologic and how drugs are not the only way to cure disorders of the brain.It gives a good background of the brain's physiology and explains the majority of brain function and the pathology that may occur to brain regions and the subsequent problems.In short a very good book that can prove valuable to everybody that uses their brain as it teaches how to use it better and make the most out of it.
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on 7 January 2004
I bought this book expecting it to be a light hearted look at how the brain works. Instead it was a very in depth review of the current state of research into brain function. It was fascinating but quite hard going for a non-specialist like myself. If you are prepared to put in the effort, this book is a very informative read.
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on 28 November 2005
I bought this book quite some time ago and found it very informative, very deep and profoundly interesting.
However, I did feel it was quite heavy going at times and I found it gave me so much to digest that I couldn't read it straight through, I had to stop every now and then to think about what I had just read. It certainly extended the life of the book!
I wouldn't recommend this book as just light reading, but I would recommend it to anyone with some interest in the human mind and human behaviour.
The effort it takes to read it the whole of the way through is well worth it.
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on 1 February 2009
This is a splendid book. Having read two brain books in a row that really engaged my attention, this third one did not let me down. As a general reader who had been prepared for neuroscience jargon by previous reading I did not feel that Ratey's book was too technical. It flowed easily through case studies, scientific explanations and accounts of neuroscientific research at an easy pace that was helped by having things split into short sections that tackled defined topics. Each chapter had something for the individual who wants to understand his own brain; for the parent or grandparent who wants to understand a child's development; or for the person who knows someone who has to cope with some kind of brain limitation. As a final treat, Chapter 9,The Four Theaters, explains a new perspective in defining mental disorders which should give us all hope. This should be read even if all the previous chapters are not. I agree with another reviewer that better diagrams would have helped but I am not a neuroscientist and I do not have to know and name each part of the brain so this didn't detract from the overall appeal of the book for me.
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on 1 October 2012
As suggested by the title, this is all about how the brain works. What is fascinating about it in particular are the anecdotes showing what happens when things in the brain go wrong. It is well-known to be amongst the complicated creations in the universe. The author opens up with a look at how we develop, before talking about how we perceive things. As is the case throughout the book, much of what we know (which the author admits is still very limited) comes about from examining the "extremities" of human existence. If you were looking for a discussion on anything other human brains, this isn't the book for you. There is some discussion of our evolutionary roots, but this is minimal.

Moving on, Ratey controversially posits that `attention' and `consciousness' are simply different levels of the same basic phenomenon. This is based on attempts to distinguish the two and the failures of those attempts, with a particularly grey area in between them. He goes on to cover various functions of the brain such as movement, memory, emotion and language. All of this is told in a very straightforward manner, although Ratey doesn't shy away from the more neurological language which may put off some readers.

Throughout the book, Ratey is keen to stress that there is rarely one area of the brain that is responsible for one thing. Instead, the brain is built of multiple overlapping and interconnected networks which, when the neurons are stimulated in certain patterns, produce effects we can recognise and label.

At 380 pages, the book does seem a little longer than it needs to be and towards the end I was just wanting to get it over and done with, as Ratey started to cover ground already well-trodden earlier in the book. The last couple of chapters started ringing a few alarm bells. For example I'm not sure if most embryologists would concur with the statement, "The day an infant is conceived it begins to perceive the natural world, and also becomes aware of its own internal states..."

That aside, it's well worth a read, but don't expect to get through it in one afternoon.
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on 11 May 2013
very interesting for someone who has done any proper science/ biology since A-level over 20 years ago. I would definitively need to read it again if I was hoping to remember all the chemical processes but the examples are very good and very informative. I am a teacher and find it useful to have a good understanding of the brain's mechanisms
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on 5 July 2008
I read this book as a follow-up to Robert Winston's "The Human Mind" and it's interesting to draw a comparison.

I would suggest that if the prospective reader wants a "pop science" overview of how the Brain works, that they should start with Robert Winston's book. If, after that, you would like to know more, then John Ratey's book is a good follow-up.

Don't be deceived by the friendly title and cover - from a layman's point of view this is in-depth and academic in its style.

Personally I found it pretty hard going as bedtime reading, but I persevered and it was **intellectually** worth the effort. And there's the thing: if you're left-brained you will get a lot from this book - but I suspect those with right-dominated brains will find the text rather unemotional and un-engaging for a topic which is so human.

The other thing that lets this book down is an absence of diagrams - if "a picture paints a thousand words" then the author will almost always go for the loquacious option. Eventualy I found a decent graphic of the brain on New Scientist's website, printed it out and glued it into the front cover. But really I shouldn't have had to do that.

So in summary, this is not a bad book but it needs to work out who its target market is, and brand itself accordingly.
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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2009
I recommend this in my Listmania "Teach yourself Neuroscience" :). After The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science I recommend this.

Basically Doidge fires off your enthusiasm with just about no technicality's. Ratey continues this but introduces some depth. You'll need some genuine interest and enthusiasm for the subject for sure. However he's writing for the interested layman. So there is some work to be done-not loads mind. I found that it's pretty easy to get into, and continue with. Only the chapter on the Four Theatres I felt I needed to really reread and concentrate hard on. The rest flowed easily.

You either come out of it ready to tackle Kandel's book In Search of Memory on my list, or something similar or you simply reread it and justifiably feel far better informed than you were before.

Either way if you've read little on the mind but want to get into the meat and potatoes of it, make this one of your first few stops.
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on 24 February 2011
Following a very interesting lecture by a psychologist on how to help people deal with addictions and the role of the Brain in regard to this, I wanted to know more and have found this book really useful and clearly written. It is of great interest to my work.
Chloe
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