A digestible, intriguing academic read on a complex subject.

BRAINSCAPES

THE WARPED, WONDROUS MAPS WRITTEN IN YOUR BRAIN―AND HOW THEY GUIDE YOU

A thorough delineation of neural representations, or brain maps, that affect our sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional capacities.

Schwarzlose, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, explores literal brain maps, within human and animal brains, comprised of cells. Unlike traditional geographical maps, they are dynamic by virtue of electricity and time. "Neighboring neurons in your brain represent neighboring plots of land on your skin,” she writes. “The result? A beautiful, honest-to-goodness map of the surfaces of your body built into your brain." The author uses the metaphor of subway tunnels in not only explaining  how brain maps affect our sight and feeling, but also to demonstrate that a map's inherent two-dimensional distortion sometimes makes it better at magnifying important information. "Vision as you know it is born in the darkness at the back of your skull, reflecting what is happening in your visual brain maps more than what is happening in your two eyes,” she writes. “This is why it matters so much exactly how your maps are warped: these maps, in turn, warp your conscious perception." Schwarzlose illuminates four primary themes of brain maps: their universality, respective uniqueness, the idea that they are created out of necessity, and their ability to give organisms the opportunity to adapt. Not only are brain maps spatial, but they can also use nonspatial phenomena, such as vibrations, to reveal where a source of sound is located. Human brain maps were discovered in 19th-century London through experiments on patients who experienced seizures and the study of their paths. The parietal lobe, writes the author, holds maps that do not belong to a single category: “They actually combine and align information from touch, vision, and hearing with information about body position and space around the body to which actions might be guided." The scope of the book is staggering, as is the potential of technology's role in decoding minds, and yet Schwarzlose successfully and enthusiastically relays the research in relevant, understandable, and absorbing language. The black-and-white illustrations are also helpful.

A digestible, intriguing academic read on a complex subject.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-94996-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

HOW TO PREVENT THE NEXT PANDEMIC

The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more