A wondrous tour of our circuitry

Neuroscience. Authors Dale Purves, George J. Augustine, David Fitzpatrick, William C. Hall, Anthony-Samuel Lamantia, James O. McNamara and Leonard E. White. Edition Fourth. Publisher Sinauer Associates. Pages 810. Price £48.99. ISBN 9780878936977.

May 22, 2008

Neuroscience is a fully fledged discipline that now warrants major textbooks in its own right. But the nervous system is unbelievably complex, and our knowledge and appreciation of its complexity is increasing all the time. So who better to produce a comprehensive textbook, now in its fourth edition, than a neuroscientist and science writer of great experience, talent and clarity of expression such as Dale Purves. Too major a task for a single author, Purves has recruited a glittering gallery of co-authors to assist him.

Neuroscience as a subject has exploded in recent decades on account of the sensational development of investigative techniques ranging from molecular biology to the imaging of the living brain. In short, there is nowadays so much to say about the nervous system that even a fundamental textbook of neuroscience is bound to be a magnum opus.

Purves and his colleagues have produced a beautiful book, made more so by the exuberance of wonderful colour illustrations to accompany the very readable text. Even those areas of the subject such as ion channels and membrane receptors, often regarded as tedious by students, come to life by virtue of the illustrations and are a real pleasure to study.

In so doing the authors have achieved one of their objectives, namely that studying neuroscience can be "full of considerable fun".

Without doubt, if I was starting out as a student again I would just love to have the opportunity of learning from this book. Every chapter is embellished with "boxes" of illustrated text summing up the status of modern investigative techniques or our current understanding of the molecular basis of neurological diseases. Another attractive feature is the inclusion of references to just a small number of important reviews and original articles at the end of each chapter.

The subject is given wide coverage, perhaps with less genetics than anticipated, but there are some important themes that emerge in successive chapters that are treated brilliantly. For example, neural development leads into synapse formation, which leads into the establishment of neural circuitry, which leads into the modification of neural circuits as a result of experience - neural plasticity, as we have come to know it.

Towards the end there are chapters on emotion, memory and the sexuality of the brain that build on the essential neuroanatomy described in earlier chapters and will prove relevant for those studying the scientific principles underlying more cognitive and psychological aspects of the subject.

Oh, and I nearly forgot ... there is a surprise bonus at the end of this wonderful book: an atlas of human neuroanatomy compiled of classical and modern images and also an extensive glossary.

From any undergraduate or graduate student's perspective, Purves' fourth edition is a real treasure trove.

Who is it for? Any serious student of neuroscience.

Presentation - Fabulous - absolutely wondrous to behold.

Would you recommend it? Without hesitation.

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