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on 17 July 2007
"...after all, the brain is stupendously complicated." O'Shea breaks up his Introduction into chapters on the history of brain studies, the workings of an individual neuron, the brain as a whole (each region's functions), sense and perception, memory creation and, finally, AI and bionics. Despite some parts getting a bit down and dirty with those damn `facts of the matter', O'Shea manages to write a pretty engaging book, as a whole.
Whilst some sentences, like:
"Ionotropic receptors mediate a direct and rapid coupling between neurotransmitter binding and the generation of a brief electrical signal in the post-synaptic neuron",
for example, can make simple fools like me say `eep', I say to you DON'T WORRY, FOOLS!, they are few and far between and happily compensated for with gems such as:
"Astonishingly, when I saw this demonstrated recently, about half the audience completely failed to notice the gorilla."
And again:
"One of the neurons responded when seven quite different pictures of the same actress, Jennifer Aniston, were shown; yet in an extraordinary display of selectivity and discrimination the same neuron did not respond to pictures of Jennifer with her then husband Brad Pitt."
Thankfully, O'Shea litters the book with just such little hooks. The letter-jumbling above is one example, the best though are the web-links like the `invisible gorilla' (unbelievable) and the McGurk effect. Pick them up as you read and they're like helpful extras which break up the prose and make it all a lot more like fun. I get the impression this book could have been soooooo boring in the wrong hands, but the man did good. If you're curious about the brain, this is a definite yes.
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This is one of the best books in the VSI series, and I've read well over thirty by now. It gives a very good introduction to the basic neuroanatomy of the brain, and explains many important brain functions. The book is intended for laypeople, but even those (like me) who are familiar with the subject can benefit from reading it. Oftentimes neuroscience textbook overwhelm with details, and it is sometimes hard to see the forest from the trees. This book provides a good bird's eye perspective on the field, and its many references and recommended books make it a valuable reference. Very importantly, the book is up to date in some of the more recent discoveries, including some current controversies like grandma neuron, the idea that the brain has a neuron devoted just for recognizing each family member.

A good, well written and well organized book. I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 16 October 2007
O'Shea's book provides a very broad overview of the structure and function of the most complex object known to Man. The biochemical and physical interactions of neurons, the formation of memory, brain-machine interaction, and a range of other topics, are all touched upon in a readable and informative manner, pitched at the level of an intelligent beginner, and requiring just an elementary grasp of physics and chemistry. The book has one significant shortcoming: Most of the illustrations are copied from other publications, and are a poor match with the text. For example, on page 45 there is a diagram illustrating avoidance behaviour in unicellular animals, a simple concept not requiring a diagram, let alone one that occupies almost an entire page and contains labels that are not referenced in the text. Yet when we come to the discussion of the large-scale structure of the human brain, in Chapter 4, which cries out for a detailed diagram, there is none. I was reduced to finding one online, to refer to as I read the text. I agonized long and hard about whether to deduct a star, because I do recommend this book, but in the end I decided I had to. I hope OUP reissue it with more relevant illustrations.
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on 2 January 2010
Professor O'Shea writes with great enthusiasm and zeal, introducing the reader to the topic in the first two chapters to some interesting ideas that come with thinking about the brain (Chpt 1), and how it has been (mis)understood historically (2). A more in-depth discussion follows, in which signalling (3), evolution of the brain (4), sensing, perceiving, and acting (5), and memories (6) are all explained. The final chapter (7) before the epilogue deals with possibilities of brain-machine hybrids and other brain-machine interfacing that may in the future be possible to cure the 'broken' brain.

That neuroscience has still got a long way to go in fully explaining brain function suggests something about the complexity of the brain. This book can at times, therefore, be a little 'heavy', and I would strongly recommend you have basic scientific knowledge AND interest before reading the book.

That said, O'Shea's articulate way of writing, his enthusiasism, wit and careful explanation make the book a sound introduction to the brain, with predictable scientific terminology-e.g. ionotropic, metabotropic-fully explained.

I certainly finished reading the book with an enhanced knowledge of the brain, despite knowing the basics beforehand, and I can guarantee that if you are interested in the subject, then you will enjoy this book.
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on 2 December 2012
I am a physicist with no prior knowledge of biochemistry or anything much to do with the brain. I read the first three chapters twice and couldn't really get to grips with what was being described. However for those intelligent laypeople like me I say persevere. The later chapters are a delight. They are accessible and informative and generally fascinating.
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on 5 September 2008
a very good introduction in terms of getting you interested and it is fairly easy to understand. for someone with no previous knowledge of any biology it might seem a bit heavy but as long as you concentrate in the harder places it's not a problem. obviously it doesn't give a complete overview and some areas have to much or too little focus but it is an interesting and enthusiastic introduction which is a good way to decide if you are really interested in this kind of stuff, and if you are it points you in the right direction well with a further reading list. so if you have always wondered about how your brain and neuronal sensory and motor systems work this give you a good way to ease into the area, and will take you at most a two evenings to read.
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on 8 November 2014
This series of books are really good, i have the quantum theory book along with the mathematics book. They make the underlying points and discussions very clear i could go on and on but the main point is these book are the bees' knees !
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on 24 April 2016
Quite exceptional value and certainly not to be thought of as dumbed down just because it is a "very short introduction"! This is an excellent read.
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on 2 July 2015
An OK introduction but it doesn't cover much ground around brain functions and I am going to have to find something else to get a more complete picture.
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on 3 December 2013
I liked it but couldn't follow it all but the writer took no prisoners and offers the reader a real challenge unlike some others in this series
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