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Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind: the Final Frontier, 26 April 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: States of Mind: New Discoveries About How Our Brains Make Us Who We Are (Life Sciences) (Hardcover)
It was with a certain amount of reluctance I approached States of Mind. For starters, it's about the brain and the mind, two topics which I often find incredibly good at inducing drowsiness. Second, and more seriously, it's a very collaborative affair. The front cover lists no less than eight authors, all experts in various aspects of neurobiology. But that turned out to be the book's saving grace.
Each article was originally a public lecture, designed for a non-specialist audience. And that's what makes the book so readable. First, the articles tend to have a very fluid, readable style, unlike so much academic prose. Because they were originally intended as lectures, they aren't as dense ... it's assumed the reader is a casual listener, rather than an expert, carefully reading and re-reading each sentence. And that makes this book a real treat. It's extremely enjoyable to read about the latest in brain research, explained by real experts in their fields, and in such a readable form.
The experts range from a Harvard professor (Jerome Kagan, director of the Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative) to a best-selling author (Kay Redfield Jamison, who gives a fascinating look at manic depressives among the gifted). Despite covering a wide variety of topics, each article is eminently readable and flows nicely into the next. Which has to be a credit to the editor, Roberta Conlan. Obviously, this isn't a book for everyone. It does assume a certain background knowledge of the brain and how it works. But if you're interested in finding out what the state of our knowledge of the brain is, this is an excellent place to start. Our picture of the mind changes so radically with each passing year that you have to read something very up-to-date if you want to avoid "learning" something that's no longer thought to be true.
If there's any real surprise here, it's the current state of the endless "nature vs. nurture" debate. For much of this century, we seem to have been in "nurture mode", endlessly arguing the primacy of environment over genetics. But the experts in this book certainly lean the other way. Not that anyone is arguing that environment isn't relevant, but there does seem to be a strong tendency to assume that genetics are more important. So in summary it's readable, up to date and full of great information. A bit specialized, but if you're curious about how that lump of matter between your ears works, you won't do much better than this. For more science book reviews, check out my web page, at exn.net/printedmatter
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