Welcome to your Brain


Earlier this year, Sam Wang kindly sent me a copy of Welcome to Your Brain, the recently published book he has written with Sandra Aamodt. In a note slipped inside the book, he tells me that "We've done our best to make it both accessible and informative," and I think that he and Aamodt have succeeded in that aim.

Welcome to your Brain is indeed accessible and full of interesting facts about the brain. Wang is an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Stanford and Aamodt is editor in chief of the journal Nature Neuroscience. In their book, they draw on recent research findings to explain commonplace phenomena and to provide useful practical tips on everything from overcoming jetlag to how to hear better on a cellular phone in a crowded room. They also debunk popular myths, such as the widely-held belief that we only use 10% of our brains.

The book is divided into 6 parts: the first includes a chapter on the basic properties of neurons and one - which, as a film buff, I found particularly interesting - on depictions of the brain in film; the second contains a chapter each on vision, hearing, taste and smell and somatosensation; that is followed by a section on how the brain changes throughout life; the section on emotions includes discussions of memory, anxiety and personality; part 5 includes chapters on decision-making, memory and autism; and the final section discusses consciousness, sleep, stroke and drugs and alcohol.

The book therefore covers much ground but is at the same time very concise. As a consequence, I felt that it didn't go into enough detail in some places - the section on cellular physiology, for example, was, for me, inadequate. It is more like a quick set-up guide than a comprehensive manual. For someone with little or no knowledge of neuroscience, however, there is much to be learnt.

My main criticism of this book is that does not have a list of references for further reading, which I always find annoying. It is also filled with slightly childish drawings which add nothing to the text; I would have preferred to see more real diagrams and figures, but there are almost none. Even so, it is well written in a lively and entertaining tone which makes it highly engaging and and enjoyable to read, for both non-scientists and people like me who have a strong background in neuroscience. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in how the brain works.

Below, I've embedded the talk at Google given by the authors, in which they discuss some of the material covered in their book, and here is the Welcome to Your Brain blog, which includes links to various articles written by the authors elsewhere.

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Thank you for the very kind (but also honest) review. I appreciate the fact that you took time to write it.

I agree about the references - it's my biggest regret about the hardback edition. You might be interested to know that the paperback will have a reference list. Eventually we hope to make the PDFs of the articles available. The paperback's target release date is January 2009.

All the best,
Sam S.-H. Wang, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Molecular Biology and Princeton Neuroscience Institute
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544.

Research: http://synapse.princeton.edu/
Book: http://www.welcometoyourbrain.com/
Meta-analysis: http://election.princeton.edu/