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Mike Riley

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Your Brain: The Missing Manual Book Review

June 16, 2008

Having enjoyed reading and even successfully employed some of the suggestions presented in O'Reilly's Mind Performance Hacks published a few years ago, I was interested to see what their latest book had to say about the human brain from an application developer's point of view.  

Your Brain: The Missing Manual is written by Matthew MacDonald, an application developer and author of several books on the .NET Framework.  Your Brain is Matthew's attempt to consolidate the huge library of knowledge collected about the brain and distill it into the Missing Manual format.  I have to admit I have not been an ardent fan of the Missing Manual series in the past due to its one step above the 'Dummies' line of books, but acknowledge that these books are marketed toward satiating neophyte learning quests.  

Having read a couple brain-related books in the past as well as staying abreast on the latest medical news on the subject, I was curious to know what a book like Your Brain had yet to teach me, especially since it was written by someone whose profession I could more directly relate to versus, say, a neurosurgeon.  As such, the book is delivered in pretty much the way I expected, like a co-worker who follows the topic and wants to tell me about it in an abbreviated fashion.  While this may work for the uninitiated, there was virtually nothing presented in the book that I did not already know from previous investigations on the subject.  In that way, it was no different than other Missing Manuals I have read.

The book begins with 'A Lap Around the Brain', providing a quick anatomy lesson on the most discussed portions (in this book, anyway) of the brain's topology, followed by a chapter on healthy eating (healthy food = healthy brain), sleep (rested brain = healthy brain), perception, memory, emotions, reasoning, personality and differences between the sexes.  The book closes somewhat abruptly on the subject of brain development.  I'm not sure why Peter Meyers, the book's editor, opted to have the book conclude on the beginning of the brain's formation, though I suspect it was to engage readers as quickly as possible with the immediately applicable workings of a mature brain rather than a somewhat dry lesson in neural embryology.

I was hoping to discover some new bit of research or practical knowledge I could apply or understand more deeply than before reading the book, but my expectations declined with every page turn.  One missed opportunity, especially given the author's programming profession, was the exploration of mind and machine.  The recent news of embedded electrodes giving quadriplegics the ability to manipulate mouse cursors with their thoughts would have been a captivating subject.  Or perhaps how computers are either improving or, as some argue, degrading the brain's ability to understand and synthesize concepts.  Alas, if the page count had been higher and the trim size larger, these topics could have been further investigated.

In summary, I can only recommend this book to individuals who have only recently taken an interest in the science of neurology and haven't stayed abreast on the more recent, interesting developments in the field.  Potential readers should know up front that Your Brain takes a very general, generic overview at this very profound and penetrating topic.  It's a shame Your Brain is nowhere near as compelling or practical as O'Reilly's aging Mind Performance Hacks book.

Title: Your Brain: The Missing Manual
ISBN:  978-0-596-51778-6
Price: $24.99US

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