A work that has something important to say about the role of neurobiology in social conflict—but doesn’t say quite enough.




A psychiatrist examines complex systems of brain structure and function in order to probe the roots of social discord.

When one experiences conflict with another person, one often thinks that it’s because that other person’s brain is “wired” differently. Debut author Sheehan, a trained medical doctor and a retired U.S. Army psychiatrist, expands on that familiar idea, asserting that our brains are also “trained” differently by unique life experiences. Our thoughts follow familiar patterns, he says, so we can remember important information and live our everyday lives; taken together, these recurring patterns harmonize to form the “oscillation” of the title. This oscillation, Sheehan says, makes us who we are, and it “transforms the brain’s three-pound mass of gray matter into a dynamic medium.” The truly revolutionary idea of this book, though, is its notion that these oscillations define how we approach conflict with others. The first chapters delve deeply into brain anatomy and electrochemical functioning, while later ones explain psychiatric principles, such as how one forms a sense of self and others. Then the book briefly describes complex systems in natural phenomena, such as the relationship between weather and climate, using Hurricane Katrina as an example. As a result, Sheehan makes readers absorb a lot of technical information before they arrive at his most important implication, which he only truly reveals in the last few page of the book: by understanding how our brains work, he says, we may better understand conflict on a personal, communal, and even global scale. He further asserts that, because modern transportation and communication technologies constantly expose us to different points of view (that is, other kinds of oscillations), our comfortable patterns are constantly under assault, and we begin to think of other cultures as enemies. This thesis is a particularly provocative one given the rise of nationalist movements in the United States and abroad. The book would have benefited, however, from a much stronger focus on it.

A work that has something important to say about the role of neurobiology in social conflict—but doesn’t say quite enough.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4897-0581-5

Page Count: 158

Publisher: LifeRichPublishing

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2017

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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