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The Brain: The Story of You
The brain, writes David Eagleman, is our 'inner cosmos', and his latest book aims to provide a 'whistle-stop tour' of its circuitry, exploring how it makes us who we are and what it could achieve in the future. Although short, his book covers an enormous amount of ground, investigating subjects such as autism, genocide, cryogenics and the evolutionary benefits of monogamy.
Eagleman, who is a neuroscientist, uses a range of intriguing case studies to describe the science, and shows how by studying people lacking in certain functions neuroscientists often gain their biggest insights. He recounts the case of a girl who had half her brain removed to cure her epilepsy, yet was able to lead a relatively normal life: the remaining half of her brain rewired itself to compensate.
He also writes about an experiment into the effects of Botox. People injected with the drug were found to be worse at identifying emotions in other people: the paralysis in their own facial muscles meant that they were less able to 'mirror' others' facial expressions.
Eagleman is acutely aware of neuroscience's limitations. It is, he remarks, a 'young' subject, and at the moment it is 'surrounded by mysteries'. But his excitement over current research and future possibilities is evident throughout the book. Eschewing academic jargon, he has written an accessible and fascinating primer on the latest brain science.
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