The Frontal Cortex

So I was talking to a friend of mine, currently working towards his Ph.D in neuroscience, and we got into an interesting discussion about the most influential neuroscience book published in the last 25 years. We defined “influence” as broadly as possible, so that it refers to both working scientists and the lay public. I’m traveling today, and won’t have much time to blog, but I thought I’d throw out my nominees in the hope of sparking a spirited discussion. (I’m also not convinced that my nominees are very good.)

The Mind’s New Science, by Howard Gardner

Descartes’ Error, by Antonio Damasio

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, by Oliver Sacks


  1. #1 boojieboy
    January 11, 2007

    whatever book it was that did the most to promote the “memory loss scenario” (a la HM) to hollywood script writers. You can’t turn on the tv or go to the movies these days without having some character lose their damned memory. Memento was great, but now it’s become a cliche. I know it had become old hat to use the amnesia scenario in soaps and such, but there was a spate of these in the wake of Memento, and they all seemed to have acquired a science-y patina with use of terms like “short term memory loss” instead of “amnesia”. Just the other day on House, MD, they induced it intentionally in a patient using ECT.

    PS Gardner’s book is not that influential (IMHO). Pinker’s book Blank Slate was much more so. But there are others. Phantoms in the Brain was wildly successful.

  2. #2 Chris Chatham
    January 11, 2007

    I agree with boojieboy – Phantoms in the Brain, Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, and Quest for Consciousness are all more broadly influential (assuming we’re talking about neuroscience books influencing popular perception of the neurosciences, not influencing neuroscience itself).

    Except for The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which might count as my first true love. hahah…

  3. #3 MC
    January 11, 2007

    I’d have to go with Sacks, but Ramachandran and Damasio are also fantastic writers who do a great job of bringing brains to the general public.

    As for Memento, it’s very good, but not a patch on Kurosawa’s Rashomon.

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    January 11, 2007

    The Most Influential Neuroscience Book Is…

    the Bible!

  5. #5 Lincoln
    January 11, 2007

    How about A Neurocomputational Perspective by Paul Churchland?

  6. #6 Crusty Dem
    January 11, 2007

    I think it’s got to be Sacks.. I’m not saying it’s the best, but definitely the most influential.

    And a nod and a second on MC’s Rashomon (and Kurosawa does it without resorting to amnesia).

  7. #7 Epistaxis
    January 12, 2007

    If we’re going to go as far as celebrated fictional works that deal with memory (give me a P!), why not throw in well-known pulp nonfiction that deals with things vaguely related to the brain? The criterion is “influential,” not “good” (though I mean no disrespect to Csik… or his work).

    The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell; Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; hell, The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren

  8. #8 Derick Lindquist
    January 12, 2007

    I would say Kandel’s Principles of Neural Science is by far one of the most influential. I realize that the discussion seems focused on popular science books rather than textbooks, of course. In which case, I would add to the above:

    Edelman’s books, including Neural Darwinism
    Pinker’s How the Mind Works
    Pat Churchland’s Neurophilosophy

  9. #9 melatonin
    January 12, 2007

    One not mentioned above..

    Affective neuroscience: foundations of human and animal emotions – Jaak Panksepp

    Ramachandran’s and Sacks’ book also.

  10. #10 Jonah
    January 13, 2007

    Thanks for all your wonderful suggestions. A few assorted notes:
    I agree that Ramachandran has been immensely influential, especially in selling the mirror neuron hypothesis (for better or worse). I’d also second Pinker’s “How the Mind Works,” although I think that a lot of that neural connectionism stuff seems outdated.

    But I’ve got another question for everybody: why are books by neurologists so influential? Is there just something inherently sexy about about the case study?

    Finally, I think Derick Lindquist’s suggestion was spot on: Kandel’s textbook has been immensely influential, although I’m not quite sure how exactly it has shifted the field. Beyond pushing the CREB story, has it made neuroscientists more interested in plasticity? (If the authors had a research bias, that would seem to be it.)

    But thanks again for your comments.

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