Monday, July 11, 2016

The Accidental Mind - David J Linden

Book Details

Book Title: The Accidental Mind

Author: David J Linden

: Harvard University Press

Source: Library

Page Count: 236

Format: Hardback

Field Of Study: Brain Science

Audience: Those who want to increase their knowledge of the brain in a social and biological sense.

Buy? Read? Avoid?: Buy if you love brains. Avoid if you don't.

Summed up in one word: Brainy...

First Impression: I picked this up in an attempt to learn about the brain from a different perspective other than the simple 'this is the brain' outline. DJL sets out to show us that the brain is not a beautifully crafted machine but more of a freak of nature and evolution. DJL certainly achieves this in 'The Accidental Mind'. There are very different levels of intensity involved in this piece though, I found that the subject matter depth fluctuated frequently and left me a little disorientated...but if you like biological depth then you will love this...if you want more of a psychologically heavy book on the brain then look elsewhere...(Sam Kean has some awesome books...just saying...).

Summary Of The Book:

David J. Linden uses The Accidental Mind to inform us that our brains are not expertly crafted to meet our needs as human beings, in fact they were put together haphazardly over the course of our evolution to help us survive as a species.

In The Accidental Mind we get the answers to some of the bigger questions of how our brains function. Do we only use a portion of our brains? What is behind our social drive like sex and aggression? What about our brains make us so clever? What enables language? Or understand motivations? It is questions like this that fuels David J. Lindens passion about the brain. Here we learn about all aspects of the brain from neurotransmitters to memory and the plasticity of the brain. It differs from other brain books in the form of perspective. David J. Linden wants people to know that when it comes to the development of the brain during evolution, functionality at the time was more important than overall design.

DJL takes the reader on a journey through the brain. We get breakdowns and explanations of how the brain actually functions and how it got that way. Along with some fantastic artwork, this is a psychological, social and biological trip through the history, capability and absurdity of our brains. He explains that a lot of our brains functionality was built just to keep on going and not engineered to make us the top species on the planet.

If you love science, people and want to understand yourself and others on a biological level then this is the book for you. Come and get to know what makes us tick and the wonderful accidents that give us some of the amazing features and capabilities we enjoy everyday.

My Review:

To begin with this book is not as accessible as it initially appears to be. It is readable don't get me wrong and DJL explains that he will be getting into the biology of the brain at certain points throughout his book. My issue was that the biological section of this book were very detailed, in depth and far beyond my understanding. Thats my problem you say....? That may be the case but to me this is more of a textbook in a casual books clothing. (If books wore clothes). The author was mid way between formal and informal though when it comes to the science DJL is not to be taken lightly.

Now that complaining is out the way for now, lets talk about the book as a whole. I was really excited for this piece as it was a fresh perspective on a topic that has been done to death. In terms of perspective, DJL gets top marks. He is informative, invested and direct when he talks about the brain and its design. DJL wrote this book to explain that instead of a piece of art. the brain is more a kludge (his word not mine) which roughly means something that is inefficient, inelegant, clumsy and hard to maintain. He also praises the brain for working so well despite these facts. 

In The Accidental Mind the reader is taken on a museum tour of the brain. Working from the Cortex all the way to the centre of the brain via the Thalamus, Hypothalamus, mid brain and the Cerebellum. At first the science was fun, exciting and almost familiar (though I have read quite a few brain books). Some classic stories such as Phineas Gage and H.M pop up and show us fascinating effects the brain can have when pieces are removed. Then we get into the deeper parts and this is where I got lost...DJL goes into the chemical make up of the brain, the chemical functions and how these factors affect everything that makes us who we are. From sexual orientation, sleep patterns, love, memory, religion and our sensory perception. I am not saying that this book is boring or badly written by any means, I just didn't comprehend the denser parts to this tome and I warn others that it may cause some issues..but maybe not.

My favourite part to this book were all the illustrations! Such detail and they worked perfectly alongside the text to keep the reader engrossed and included in the science. Based on the premise and the artwork alone this book is at least a 9/10 but with a few other issues floating around I am not so sure. The format of this book is also effective. DJL has separated the book into 9 clear chapters, with the social aspects of the brain explained first with the biology after that. This means that if you find the biology rather heavy then you could move on and just read this as a social/psychological perspective on the imperfect brains we all have in our noggins.

Overall this is an effective book, maybe not a entry point to the science of the brain but definitely worth reading if you have scientific passion. For the casual readers out there there are many other books that will give you the points I found within this one but without the heavier parts. Check it out and see for yourself!


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