Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind

May 28, 2009

Authors: Michael S. Gazzaniga, Richard B. Ivry and George R. Mangun

Edition: Third

Publisher: W. W. Norton

Pages: 689

Price: £37.99

ISBN 9780393111361

Writing textbook reviews always takes me back to my undergraduate days, browsing the dozens of psychology texts I needed to complete my reading lists. I would spend hours in Dillons on Malet Street, perusing the various editions of different texts. It didn't take long to realise that most of these books had much the same story to tell, with some stories much better told than others. The main differences were a little updating of research and more boxes and pictures.

After flicking through these heavy texts I would find myself on the top floor in the second-hand section. I recall buying a tattered philosophy of mind text because I saw a chapter on qualia. I thought it was the most delicious-sounding word I'd ever heard. I looked around to make sure I was alone and tried saying the word out loud. I didn't know anything about philosophy of mind, but I chose that book instead of the social psychology text on my reading list.

I have never regretted that decision. It opened my mind to reading all kinds of books related to psychology and not just the sanitised textbooks most students read nowadays. Thankfully, Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind - although a textbook in the traditional sense - is closer to what I would call a "real" science book.

As I flicked through the other textbooks I was sent for these reviews, I found my mind drifting. They contained lots of pretty pictures, loads of pedagogical tips and hints, but little substance. This isn't a problem if students use textbooks as a starting point. But in my experience, they often rely on them to the exclusion of all else.

Cognitive Neuroscience is different. It's an excellent book and a jolly good read. The authors manage to captivate their readers by starting each chapter with an anecdote, usually of a patient with brain damage that relates to the current topic. I found these introductions so interesting that I whiled away hours reading about the brain structure and function behind these abnormalities. I was so absorbed I did something I've never done before - I put aside my novel and read this book in bed. There are all the topics one would expect to find in a book of this sort, but brilliantly told.

Who should read this book? I think I'll be bold and say that anyone interested in psychology will enjoy reading this. I'll certainly be recommending it to my students - though I'll be holding on to my copy.

Who is it for? Cognitive neuroscience is a difficult subject, especially compared with the softer, social side of psychology. This book is both gripping and informative and should make the topic easier for psychology and medical students alike.

Presentation: Beautifully written.

Would you recommend it? Absolutely.

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