THE MIND by Anthony Smith


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English science writer Smith has obviously searched neurology texts and professional journals to produce this sequel to The Body (1968). The influence of Smith's scholarly sources is so strong, indeed, that the book has more the quality of a text than a popularization--a possible gain in depth of content, but at the expense of the immediacy and excitement that come from contact with lab scientists. The organization also reflects a classical conservative outline. Major parts are devoted to evolution and development; gross anatomy and physiology; mental phenomena (dominance, consciousness, ability, memory, senses); and, in the last parts, abnormalities, the aging brain, and brain death. The opening chapters are among the book's best; here, Smith stylishly conveys the current wisdom on brain evolution and stages of development. Next come details of brain organization and nerve impulse conduction. Graphic images of the brain's ""blancmange"" consistency liven the naming of landmarks and pathways, but the focus often gets local at the expense of the global view. This is especially evident in Smith's handling of neurochemistry. Though he is aware of the revolution in brain chemistry that has led to the identification of dozens of neurotransmitters or modulators, their role in facilitating or inhibiting neural activity is seldom spelled out--either in overall hypotheses of how the brain works, or in cases of particular brain derangements. Thus the chapters on congenital abnormalities, trauma, and disease often become dreary catalogues of symptoms with no relief in sight. The section on mental phenomena also has a curiously dated quality, with its stress on what we don't know over what we do. Overall, this is a conscientious effort to render the human brain less mysterious while conveying a sense of wonder and awe. For almost any reader, however, there are more inspired choices--from J. Z. Young's Programs of the Brain to the relevant chapters in Jonathan Miller's The Body in Question.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking