"BRAINSCAPES: An Introduction to What Neuroscience Has Learned about the Structure, Function, and Abilities of the Brain" by

"BRAINSCAPES: An Introduction to What Neuroscience Has Learned about the Structure, Function, and Abilities of the Brain"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An orthodox approach that works. Old-fashioned gross anatomy, cell biology, neurochemistry, and physiology are the tools Washington-based neurologist Restak (The Modular Brain, 1994, etc.) uses to teach the wonders of the human brain. Thus, the first chapters recap what we know about the brain's hemispheres and the major landmarks that demarcate areas associated with language, emotion, thought, vision, movements, and the like. These are followed by the essentials of how nerve cells are organized, how they communicate with each other, and the many varieties of chemicals that grease the neural circuitry. To be sure, along the way there are countless examples that illustrate what can go wrong when illness or injury strikes, from all too familiar incurable conditions like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease to more rare syndromes like Lesch-Nyhan, a genetic disease involving self-mutilation. Later, Restak introduces case studies from his own practice and explains how a subject's reports combined with new methods of brain imaging can help pin down the diagnosis as well as illustrate normal brain function. Toward the end of the book Restak comes to grips with some old and new issues: the perennial problems of self-awareness and free will; the ethical dilemma raised by defense lawyers who may argue that their client's neurological illness predisposed them to violence (too simplistic; we don't know enough to eliminate personal responsibility). Equally problematic is the issue of ""improving"" our minds through drugs (like Prozac). Perhaps the question to be raised here is whether such psychoactive drugs improve ""normal"" performance or only correct deficits. Overall, Restak has managed a remarkable sweep of information in a short book: proving that if you lay down your anatomical landmarks in advance, you can lead the reader to some very exciting and promising brain (land) scapes.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Hyperion