Kirkus Star


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Another of those big-format TV-production books (usually associated with the British)--and a good one: this time, to accompany an American series scheduled for PBS airing in October. Restak, a Washington-based neurologist/therapist, has previously written on personality disorders (The Self Seekers) and the nervous system (The Brain: the Last Frontier) from a particular point of view; here, however, he cites multiple sources at the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as leading academics. The result is a more seasoned, rounded appraisal of selected areas of brain research. A brief orientation to gross anatomy leads into chapters on vision and movement (emphasizing the intricate feedback activities that govern intentional acts), and stress and emotion (largely stress and pain). The pairings continue with chapters on rhythms and drives, which discuss not only the various physiological cycles but some newer-found seasonal phenomena (e.g., some people suffer winter depressions, and benefit from daily doses of light). ""Learning and memory"" focuses largely on memory, and the rise and fall of various theories; but the material on learning in invertebrates (sea snails, worms) is particularly well-presented and promising. ""The Two Brains,"" built around the fascination with two hemispheres, nonetheless stays clear of sensationalizing or suggesting constant rivalry. ""Madness"" and ""States of Mind,"" which conclude the book, provide detailed descriptions of research on schizophrenia and mood disorders, along with discussion of attention, wakefulness, sleeping, dreaming, and other altered states of consciousness. Commendably, Restak stresses that no disease, no mental activity, no state of mind can or should be conceived as the result of this chemical or that brain pathway. He clearly and forcefully depicts the brain's wondrous complexity: the multiple routes that can lead to the same ends, or the multiple derangements that can lead to similar symptoms. The photos and art are not as striking as those in Colin Blakemore's Mechanics of Mind or the Jonathan Miller books; but their businesslike treatments of anatomy or brain mapping do make the point that neuroscience has advanced because new and better tools are at hand. Highly commendable.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Bantam