neuroscience

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #24 – Four Books From Netgalley

Published September 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four books from Netgalley for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) Me, Myself And Why: Searching For The Science Of Self – Jennifer Ouellette

What’s it all about?:

As diverse as people appear to be, all of our genes and brains are nearly identical. In Me, Myself, and Why, Jennifer Ouellette dives into the miniscule ranges of variation to understand just what sets us apart. She draws on cutting-edge research in genetics, neuroscience, and psychology-enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor-to explore the mysteries of human identity and behavior. Readers follow her own surprising journey of self-discovery as she has her genome sequenced, her brain mapped, her personality typed, and even samples a popular hallucinogen. Bringing together everything from Mendel’s famous pea plant experiments and mutations in The X-Men to our taste for cilantro and our relationships with virtual avatars, Ouellette takes us on an endlessly thrilling and illuminating trip into the science of ourselves.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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2.) Land Where I Flee – Prajwal Parajuly

What’s it all about?:

To commemorate Chitralekha Nepauney’s Chaurasi – her landmark 84th birthday – Chitralekha’s grandchildren are travelling to Gangtok to pay their respects.

Agastaya is flying in from New York. Although a successful oncologist at only thirty-three he is dreading his family’s inquisition into why he is not married, and terrified that the reason for his bachelordom will be discovered.

Joining him are Manasa and Bhagwati, coming from London and Colorado respectively. One the Oxford-educated achiever; the other the disgraced eloper – one moneyed but miserable; the other ostracized but optimistic.

All three harbour the same dual objective: to emerge from the celebrations with their grandmother’s blessing and their nerves intact: a goal that will become increasingly impossible thanks to a mischievous maid and a fourth, uninvited guest.

Prajwal Parajuly – the son of an Indian father and a Nepalese mother – divides his time between New York and Oxford, but disappears to Gangtok, his hometown in the Indian Himalayas, at every opportunity. Land Where I Flee is his first novel.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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3.) Joy, Guilt, Anger Love: What Neuroscience Can And Can’t Tell Us About How We Feel – Giovanni Frazzetto

What’s it all about?:

Is science ever enough to explain why we feel the way we feel?

In this engaging account, renowned neuroscientist Giovanni Frazzetto blends cutting-edge scientific research with personal stories to reveal how our brains generate our emotions. He demonstrates that while modern science has expanded our knowledge, investigating art, literature, and philosophy is equally crucial to unraveling the brain’s secrets. What can a brain scan, or our reaction to a Caravaggio painting, reveal about the deep seat of guilt? Can ancient remedies fight sadness more effectively than antidepressants? What can writing poetry tell us about how joy works? Structured in seven chapters encompassing common human emotions—anger, guilt, anxiety, grief, empathy, joy, and love—Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love offers a way of thinking about science and art that will help us to more fully understand ourselves and how we feel.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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4.) The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowland

What’s it all about?:

This powerful debut follows a woman who sets out to challenge the absurdity of the world around her. Lena, the transcriptionist, sits alone in a room far away from the hum of the newsroom that is the heart of the Record, the New York City newspaper for which she works. For years, she has been the ever-present link for reporters calling in stories from around the world. Turning spoken words to print, Lena is the vein that connects the organs of the paper. She is loyal, she is unquestioning, yet technology is dictating that her days there are numbered. When she reads a shocking piece in the paper about a Jane Doe mauled to death by a lion, she recognizes the woman in the picture. They had met on a bus just a few days before. Obsessed with understanding what caused the woman to deliberately climb into the lion’s den, Lena begins a campaign for truth that will destroy the Record’s complacency and shake the venerable institution to its very foundation. An exquisite novel that asks probing questions about journalism and ethics, about the decline of the newspaper and the failure of language, it is also the story of a woman’s effort to establish her place in an increasingly alien and alienating world.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI-PIN IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

 

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The Tale Of The Duelling Neurosurgeons: The History Of The Human Brain As Revealed By True Stories Of Trauma, Madness and Recovery – Sam Kean

Published November 15, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

From the author of the best-seller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims’ personalities. An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, paedophile, or liar. But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes. With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain’s secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.

What did I think?:

I couldn’t resist The Duelling Neurosurgeons when I saw it, it’s got everything I could possibly ask for from a popular science book. Firstly, it focuses on arguably the most exciting and mysterious organ in the human body – the brain, which has always fascinated me ever since I studied a module on neuroscience as part of my first degree. Secondly, it combines triumphs (and disasters) of neurosurgeons through history and provides case studies of “real,” patients, some of whom left me dumbfounded. For example, the blind man who travelled the world by using echolocation and textbook studies such as Phineas Gage who received such a traumatic brain injury that it ended up changing his entire personality. Finally (and perhaps one of the things that excited me the most), Sam Kean introduces each chapter by providing a little puzzle or “rebus” to illustrate what the content of that particular chapter might be about.

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This was so much fun and I was quite strict with myself, not going on to read the chapter until I had figured out the rebus. This proved quite frustrating with some of the trickier images!

Why The Duelling Neurosurgeons? Well, it all starts in 1559 where King Henri II of France receives a traumatic injury to his brain after a jousting accident. The two most prominent brain doctors of the day, Paré and Vesalius (who also founded what we know now as modern anatomy) were called to his bedside and although some of their methods for treating the king were quite primitive, essentially they both led the way for further experimentation and brain surgery today. For example, Paré was quite keen on strange concoctions and compresses, one in particular consisted of egg yolk, turpentine, earthworms and dead puppies. Each to their own I guess?!… He also devised a strange experiment that allowed him to differentiate between fatty tissue and brain tissue in a frying pan where fat was seen to liquefy and brain would shrivel.

There is a wealth of interesting information from case studies put forward in this book but I’ll just mention a couple of my favourites. The section on phantom limbs, where someone who has recently had a limb amputated can still feel pain in the area that the limb used to be was fascinating but did you know that some women who have had complete hysterectomies can still have phantom menstrual pains? Or there are even such things as phantom teeth, phantom penises and phantom erections? The topics covered by the author are intriguing, informative and endlessly thought-provoking. In fact, I’ve never had so much fun before reading a popular science book. I have the author’s first two books to read on my Kindle – The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb and if they’re half as entertaining as this one was, I’m in for a treat. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about this surprising and brilliant organ.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Neurotourist: Postcards From The Edge Of Brain Science – Lone Frank

Published January 21, 2015 by bibliobeth

The Neurotourist: Postcards from the Edge of Brain Science

What’s it all about?:

Discover the true heart of humanity: the brain. Your brain shapes your world, but you can also shape your brain. From the God helmet to the No Lie MRI, award-winning journalist Lone Frank embarks on an incredible adventure to the frontiers of neuroscience, revealing how today’s top scientists are reinventing human nature, morality, happiness, health, and reality itself. Interlacing bizarre experiments, cutting-edge research, and irreverent interviews, The Neurotourist is an unforgettable tour of the mind-bending revolution underway in the new age of the brain. A critically-acclaimed journalist, science writer, and TV presenter, Lone Frank also holds a PhD in neurobiology and has worked as a research scientist in Denmark and the US. Apart from a particularly ‘cute’ corpus callosum she has an expert’s word that her brain is quite unremarkable.

What did I think?:

I was quite excited when I saw this title at my local library as my favourite non-fiction books are usually science-based and I’m fascinated with the whole area of neuroscience which is constantly changing as we learn more about the mysterious goings-on of our brains. Looking at the contents page also provides some scope for excitement with intriguing titles such as “Finding God in the synapses: your own personal Jesus,” “Happiness is a cognitive workout,” and “Lies, damn lies – the prints are all over your cortex.” So, interesting content and a science writer with a sense of humour… sounds like my perfect book but in reality I’m afraid it fell slightly flat.

This is not to say that this is a bad read because it definitely isn’t and I guess it just depends what you’re looking for from the book. It’s chock-a-block with interesting facts and figures and I enjoyed reading about the number of studies that have been carried out in the name of neuroscience, bad or good depending on the answers it gave the researchers and in many cases, from the author’s personal (and often strong) opinion! One particularly mind-boggling and often controversial example is the area of religion when associated with the brain.

Basically, from a very young age, our surroundings and parental beliefs have a direct impact on what is hard-wired into the brain in much the same way that we learn the complexities of language. Having a large amount of serotonin (that happy hormone) in our brains affects the extent to which a person is spiritual and researchers have shown that actual spiritual experiences can be induced by increasing the brain’s natural supply of our own personal opiate system. One of my favourite experimental examples related to this is “The God Helmet.” This was a piece of apparatus developed by scientists Koren and Persinger to study events occurring when the temporal lobe of the brain was stimulated. Our author was the perfect test subject as she noted the feeling of a “presence,” when wearing the helmet. Persinger has confirmed that for several subjects “mystical experiences and altered states,” were reported but what does this mean for religion? Is it just because our temporal lobe has been stimulated that we are aware of the presence of God? Other scientists seem to think so and have quite a lot to say about religion: Boyer called it “a parasite on our cognitive apparatus,” and more recently the loud and proud atheist Richard Dawkins said it was “comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” Yikes, I may not be a religious person but harsh words, Mr Dawkins!

I think the above chapter on religion was probably my favourite point of the entire book as other chapters focused on economics, ethics and marketing which although easy to read became slightly dull and are not really my cup of tea. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this book as unfortunately I didn’t really find out anything I didn’t know already. Although some parts were humorous I did also feel that the author tended to get on her soap box and was rather close-minded when discussing a personal opinion of her own that she was convinced was correct/the only possible explanation. Saying that, her passion for the subject area cannot be faulted and may be a writing style that can be appreciated by a different reader.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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