Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: A User's Guide to the Brain

A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain by John J. Ratey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The idea for this book was excellent: take all of the intricate, ground-breaking information in neuroscience and psychology, simpify it as much as possible to educate every-day readers, and add a "how to" component to show the information's practicality, importance, and usefulness. Coming from an author and clinician as well established as John Ratey (he works at Harvard), I expected nothing less than an intelligent, compelling book.

A User's Guide reads like a condensed version of my freshman year cousework in Brain & Cognitive Sciences. Ratey provides explanations of each basic neuroscience concept (e.g. synapses, "use it or lose it," plasticity, etc.) as he goes through his material, all of which are essential to understanding and being convinced of his argument that we can change the neuroanatomy and therefore functionality of our own brains. However, Ratey may as well have physically taken his book and bashed his readers over the head with it repeatedly, because that is what he does with every point he makes. Instead of providing one paragraph of neuroscience explanation and then a follow-up paragraph or two about how this anatomy or functionality works in practical terms and/or how it can be manipulated by a "user," he spends pages going over and over each concept in every synonamous way he can conceive. By the end of the first chapter, I was less convinced of his argument that people can change their own brains by "thinking right" and more convinced that he was trying to create a memorization aid for neuroscience students.

Ultimately, I got so fed up with the repetition that I quit the book. (A reader can only skip so many paragraphs, after all, before deciding to "skip" the remainder of the book.) I am sure there are other books out there on this same topic that are more entertaining and less tiresome. Ratey seems like he knows his stuff, and--as I am already familiar with the material--he seems to explain it well. However, as good as his explanations might be, there IS something to be said for too much of a good thing. And A User's Guide was definitely too much.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And to think that this guy might REQUIRE his students to read it. Ugh.... Someone should send him this review.