Reviewed by Steve Canipe
Director, Science, Mathematics & Instructional Design Technology
There is something almost magical about a beautiful, colorful, well–illustrated book. Most often these type of books get described as “coffee–table” books. The Brain Book: Development, Function, Disorder, Health could be classified as one of these types of books, however, within the more than 350 pages lies a wealth of information just waiting to be read and studied…not just set aside as a pretty object on a coffee table.
As you pick up the book, you will be a bit surprised by how much it weighs—about 3.9 pounds, nearly 1.8 kilograms. All the more amazing is that the average human brain, the topic of the book, weighs about 3.0 pounds or 1.4 kilograms. Converting to brain mass, this book is about 1.3 brains. Hidden within the pounds is a gloriously–illustrated and topically–dense mass of information. There is hardly a single page without a full color photograph or illustration. The topics covered are wide ranging, from Chapter 1 entitled “Brain and Spinal Cord Function” to Chapter 10 “Diseases and Disorders.” Along the way the reader is exposed to substructures of nerves, chemical interactions, the thinking brain, mood, plasticity, and drugs.
A reader can peruse the chapter titles and then turn to that chapter and find lists of the sections being contained. There are a lot of interesting stories in the subsections. One of the subsections in Chapter 1 is entitled “The Little Brain in Your Gut.” Here the enteric part of the nervous system operates on its own as it helps move food along the entire length of the digestive tube. The enteric system does have some connections from other parts of the nervous system, which help regulate the speed of movement of food through the tube.
Other chapters and sections cover the panoply of what the title describes: development, function, disorder, and health. There is something in the information that will be of interest to just about everyone. One chapter deals with the plasticity of the brain and the impact of sensory input on learning. This plasticity also is important in brain and nerve repair from injuries or disease. This relearning can lead to being able to switch from being left handed to right handed after an accident or even to being able to paint with one’s feet if the arms are lost.
The audience for this book is a broad one. While it is probably not appropriate for a human anatomy textbook, it is definitely a useful special topic book in upper middle school and high school. It would be particularly useful for a teacher who is interested in preparing some background information for elementary or middle level students, perhaps while studying brain disease or even drug damage to the brain. This would make a good classroom or library reference book.
The Glossary covers the main vocabulary, which is presented in six pages, and the Index provides a rather complete listing of topics. One of the most desirable things in this book is the beautiful illustrations and photos. So all in all, this is a useful book for teachers of elementary and middle grade students and also for high school students and perhaps even non-science college majors. Those outside the education ranks would also benefit from the use of this book to look up items that might be if interest, such as schizophrenia, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, spinal cord injury, and numerous other relevant topics.
Review posted on 2/4/2013