Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New Releases: Brainy Reading from Michael Gazzaniga, Norman Doidge, David Adam, Yuval Noah Harari, and John McQuaid.

I'm playing catch up! There's a lot of good nonfiction out there and for some reason, I'm missing all of it. First up is Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience. From the publisher: Michael S. Gazzaniga, "the father of cognitive neuroscience," gives us an exciting behind-the-scenes look at his seminal work on the enigmatic coupling of the right and left brain. From the publisher: "His split-brain theory suggest that that the right and left hemispheres of the brain can act independently from each other and have different strengths." Why I'm interested: I just listened to the TED Radio Hour on brain science, including Jill Bolte-Taylor, who is the author of My Stroke of Genius. And ever since Richard Davidson came to town, we can't stop selling The Emotional Life of Your Brain. It was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, where critic Sally Satel notes: "It is as much a book about gratitude—for the chance to study a subject as endlessly fascinating as the brain, for the author’s brilliant colleagues and, mostly, for the patients who taught him, and the world, so much."

What is it with all these brainiacs? Also fairly recent is The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, by Norman Doidge. If Gazzaniga is into the split brain, Doidge, whose previous book was The Brain that Changes Itself, is into the elastic brain. From the publisher: "Doidge explores cases where patients alleviated years of chronic pain or recovered from debilitating strokes or accidents; children on the autistic spectrum or with learning disorders normalizing; symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy radically improved, and other near-miracle recoveries. And we learn how to vastly reduce the risk of dementia with simple approaches anyone can use." Until now, all we had was Sudoku! Tracy Sherlock in the Vancouver Sun, as reprinted in the Calgary Herald, called the book "astonishing...By merging scientific information into timeless and fascinating personal stories, Doidge makes his discoveries extremely readable."

For more neural stuff, we get personal with David Adam, the Nature journal editor is a book on OCD that mixes science and memoir. From the publisher: "The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought is his unflinchingly honest attempt to understand the condition and his experiences. What might lead an Ethiopian schoolgirl to eat a wall of her house, piece by piece, or a pair of brothers to die beneath an avalanche of household junk that they had compulsively hoarded? At what point does a harmless idea, a snowflake in a clear summer sky, become a blinding blizzard of unwanted thoughts? Drawing on the latest research on the brain, as well as historical accounts of patients and their treatments, this is a book that will challenge the way you think about what is normal and what is mental illness." I heard him on the radio, and it was a very good interview. His compulsion was panicking about getting AIDS. You can listen to it on Wisconsin Public Radio's Central Time.

As long as we are taking about brains, we should mention Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. From the publisher: "Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas." Here's Harari on All Things Considered, discussing, among other things, the not-so-great leap forward that was the agricultural revolution.

To cap things off, before I get a snack, here's a little about Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat, by John McQuaid. This January release from a journalist (sorry, we're now delving into lay territory) posits: "Taste has long been considered the most basic of the five senses because its principal mission is a simple one: to discern food from everything else. Yet it's really the most complex and subtle. Taste is a whole-body experience, and breakthroughs in genetics and microbiology are casting light not just on the experience of french fries and foie gras, but the mysterious interplay of body and brain." David Busis in The Wall Street Journal compared this work to Gladwell, but not in a good way. Drake Bennett in Bloomberg Business was more upbeat, noting "McQuaid is a deft writer with a talent for vivid metaphors, and what he leaves you with most is a sense of all that remains unknown. In one of the most interesting chapters, he looks at the quandary of why human beings seem to take pleasure in eating painfully spicy food. Research has suggested it might be a way to feed the human hunger for risk and arousal without the downside of actual bodily harm."

No comments: