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on 9 February 2017
In the acknowledgements to this book, the author writes, "This book came about after the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad asked me, in 2008, to write a column in which I answered readers' questions." So from the outset any reader should understand that this is neither a textbook nor indeed a carefully planned popular science book; rather it is a collection of interesting thoughts by the author drawing upon his own as a neuroscience researcher on sex differences in the brain, Alzheimer's disease and depression. Having served for 27 years as director of the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research and also receiving the Academy medal for his "significant role in neuroscience", one can be fairly confident about the author's knowledge about his field. That said, some reviewers have picked up on the author's tendency to drift into commentary about social, economic and political affairs, which clearly are not his area of expertise. However, given the genesis of this book, it should hardly come as a surprise that the author would proffer his opinions on a wider sphere than his specialisation; it is fairly clear in the book where this takes place and a reader is at liberty to agree or disagree with those opinions.

Where the book scores in my opinion is that is flows easily over a range of topics which illustrate the central thesis that each of us is a product of our brains and that this process starts very early in our development within the womb. However, before anyone takes this to mean that we are caught in the old chestnut of nature vs. nurture, the author is not arguing simply for the former, but rather he highlights how the two interact in our development.

The book or really what reads on occasions like a collection of essays (for the reasons outlined above and hence some cases of understandable repetition) covers a wide range of topics, each of which gets on average 5 to 6 sections. The topics listed in the Contents pages provide some structure to the presentation of ideas and allow the reader to dip into specific topics which can be read in isolation or alternatively, the reader can simply work their way through from beginning to end of the book.

Having read and studied a reasonable amount of biology and psychology over the years, I agree that there is much in this book that can be found elsewhere and indeed there are topics that might have easily been included in a book of this title. However, this book is not written for the academic, although it can provide an interesting read for the student of these subjects earlier in their reading. Rather, it is a book aimed at a general audience, many of whom may not have come across all or some of the issues raised in this book, or if they have, they might have been presented them through a different lens; hence this book is a an enjoyable romp through an important range of topics with suggestions as to some of the wider social issues they raise in some cases. It also includes a number of anecdotal stories which might annoy some, but personally, I found helped to illuminate the topic under discussion.

If you are interested in 'getting a feel' for some of the insights which research in neuroscience, medicine, psychology and biology have developed in recent decades on the nature of our brains then I should recommend this book. As said by other reviewers, the book does not provide any bibliography, but anyone seriously interested in pursuing one or more topics presented in this book would have little difficulty in the age of the internet.
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on 1 November 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'We are our brains'. It is packed full of fascinating information that will make you question everything you know about what it means to be human. Translated, and compiled from a series of articles rather than designed as a book, the style and construction are not elegant, however Swaab's matter-of-factness is refreshing, and his delivery clear and engaging.

Brilliant on neuroscience, Swaab presents compelling evidence that we leave the womb with our brains already wired in ways that will impact profoundly on our future. Swaab goes further than this though, and is unapologetic for presenting a degree of congenital determinism that he somewhat expects his reader to take his word for - his dismissal of social and ex utero environmental influences on our development is not really back up by enough evidence to convince.

Where he strays from his subject into philosophy, politics and religion this trait becomes a weakness. As an atheist I'm not troubled by his dislike of religion but his arguments against religion are not well developed - being one-sided, incomplete, simplistic and lacking in logical coherence. For example, his argument that people would be better off without religion boils down to an observation that a lot of people have been killed in it's name. Rather like Richard Dawkins, he appears to have made a religion out of atheism. All of which is fine, except that you are left wondering that if Swaab can be so intellectually short-sighted on this issue, is he really so clear-thinking on his main subject? Which is a shame, because he has much of value to say.
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on 13 August 2017
One of the best books I've ever read - has changed my view on life completely and I've learned so much that I've also changed as a person. It has explained a lot about who I am, and how humans function and develop - invaluable information which makes one more tolerant and understanding of their fellow man.
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on 1 June 2016
An interesting and insightful look at our brains, what they're used for, how we use them and what happens when they go wrong, an easy and enjoyable read, very entertaining and full of facts, a very interesting chapter on the brains evolution ( a subject I find fascinating).The only unfortunate thing about this book is that it won't be read by the people who need this type of education.
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on 13 September 2015
This is a very interesting book. I should probably say I was heavily pregnant when I read it so may have had a bit of a baby brain. The author is obviously an expert in his field and this shows. I have very little knowledge in this area so learnt a lot. My only criticism is that it probably covers too much and I would have preferred the author to have kept to fewer areas but maybe to expand on them. If you want to know pretty much everything about the brain however I would say this is a great read.
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on 11 December 2014
Extraordinary book that takes the reader through all aspects of the brain and its functions. Simple and easy to read, with little to no jargon, but scientific enough to leave the reader feeling that they have a basic grounding in today's neuroscience.
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on 20 April 2016
There is a lot in this book which is translated from the Dutch. The uptodate information tells how our brains develop and work, what can go wrong, and finally how brains age and why it takes time to remember whatisname.
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on 13 October 2016
I bought it as a gift, by request. The recipient says its very good.
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on 31 March 2014
Slightly heavy content, but told with a light touch. Really interesting stuff and changed my perception on a wide range of issues - now I know what I'm talking about!
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on 15 July 2014
It was a bit technical for me but for all that i was able to understand the explanations and the practical applications and implications. Very interesting.
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