THE AMAZING BRAIN by Robert & Richard F. Thompson Ornstein


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Stanford biologist Ornstein and psychologist Thompson have prepared this book on the brain in collaboration with gifted illustrator David Macaulay (of Cathedral and Castle fame)--with sometimes inspired, sometimes dubious results. Never have neuroanatomical drawings, especially of those fiendishly curved structures deep in the center of the brain, looked so elegant and tangible in three dimensions. Macaulay illustrations are also featured in independent essays, however, for which his text is often simplistic, overwritten, or coy. (To show the visual processes, Michelangelo's head of David is used as if he were recognizing his mother.) There is also some overlap between this text and the formal chapters, which readers may find confusing or redundant. The main text, too, tends to be written at a high, gee-whiz pitch; but it is more sophisticated, and has fewer misleading statements or overstatements. Rather than try to encompass all aspects of brain processes, the authors have chosen areas that reflect their personal interests. They undergird their exposition with good explanations of the nerve impulse, the role of neurotransmitters, and the gross and fine anatomy of the brain. They then discuss memory, some sensory processes, hemispheric differences, individual uniqueness, and, finally, the brain's conjectured role in overall health and well-being. There is a tendency to treat the brain as an evolved hierarchy of systems rather than a complex of mutually interdependent and interacting structures; still, the authors compensate somewhat for this rigid picture in other ways. They emphasize the dynamism and plasticity of the brain, for example, alluding to experiments with rats which showed that even old rats experienced brain changes and a gain in brain weight when placed in stimulating environments with young rats. As an introduction to basic principles of brain operation and some recent findings in perception, memory, and other areas, the text is generally creditable and the drawings are first-rate. For readers seeking deeper immersion, Richard Restak's The Brain (p. 800)--reinforced by the TV series--is more comprehensive.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin