Summer 2017 Brainy Reading List

Summer is finally here! We have eight brainy book suggestions, all written by members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI) or prominent neuroscientists, to take to the pool, beach, or wherever you enjoy a little bit of sun:

Summer Reading.jpg

Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine by DABI member Gordon M. Shepherd, M.D., D.Phil, Columbia University Press

Whereas most wine writers tend to focus on the various elements that go into the wine itself—the grape, the oak, terroir, the winemaker—Shepherd’s subject is the drinker. He explores biomechanics, physiology and neuroscience to describe a journey that begins as wine passes the lips and ends with a lingering “finish” that can last for minutes.
– Mark Schatzker, NPR

Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by DABI member Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Knoph

A towering figure in the world of letters—a two-time Pulitzer winner and the successor to Ezra Pound—Lowell carved a niche with reams of innovative poetry he churned out in bold, often experimental styles. His subjects were wide-ranging and epic: the Greek myths, the American Revolution. Fire is a recurring motif, along with themes like good and evil or friendship and death.

Most remarkable, though, is the fact that for decades, on and off, Lowell suffered from extreme bipolar disorder; he composed many of his best verses while stark raving mad. This is the subject of Kay Redfield Jamison’s ambitious new book, Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire. Subtitled A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character, the book is not a traditional biography, Jamison says, but a ‘psychological account’ of Lowell’s life and mind as well as ‘a narrative of the illness that so affected him.’
– Patricia Bosworth, The New York Times

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by DABI member Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D., Penguin Press

Sapolsky is seeking to understand why, as a species, humans can ruthlessly pull a trigger or compassionately touch an arm. In this sense, the book joins a genre of evolutionarily inflected works that, since at least the 1960s, have struggled to decide what we are. Are we killer apes burdened by incorrigible instincts towards aggression, or are we as much defined by our capacity for compassion and peaceful resolution of conflict? Sapolsky seeks to move beyond polarizing debate, because it is clear to him that we are both.
– Anne Harrington, Nature

Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures by Nobel laureate and DABI member Eric R. Kandel, M.D., Columbia University Press

Eric Kandel’s new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science is a beautiful integration of visual art and neuroscience. The book engages C.P. Snow’s theme of two cultures- the humanities and the sciences- and provides an artful window into the science of the mind through his fourteen nicely written chapters that include elegant figures in visual art and neuroscience. While the book de-mythologizes the idea of reductionism, it also importantly provides a sense for knowing an object and the objects to be known. This is a must read for both neuroscientists and anyone interested in the visual arts and humanities.
– Jay Schulkin, Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience, Georgetown University

(See also: DABI member Ed Bilsky’s review of Kandel’s book for Cerebrum.)

A Day in the Life of the Brain: The Neuroscience of Consciousness from Dawn Till Dusk by DABI member Baroness Susan Greenfield, Allen Lane

[Greenfield’s book] follows what might be occurring in the brain of a man–“you”, in Greenfield’s formulation–from the moment he wakes, through taking the dog for a walk, going to work in a boring office, fantasising about “wine, women and song” and coming home to a depressed, non-employed wife, a mother-in-law with dementia, and a stroppy 14-year-old son, until he finally sleeps and dreams…This “day in the life” becomes the launch pad for a description of the brain processes underlying her protagonist’s experiences.
– Steven Rose, The Guardian

Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety by DABI member Joseph E. LeDoux, Ph.D., Penguin Press

If this is the age of anxiety, LeDoux is our Lewis and our Clark: It was LeDoux who laid down the first map of what is called the brain’s “fear circuit,” the regions—centered on the amygdala and its adjacent structures—that together give rise to our ability to respond to threats and danger. But with his new book, he wants to redraw that map. After years of scientific research (and two previous books), LeDoux is convinced that, in part owing to his own work, a pervasive misconception has spread through neuroscience and trickled down to popular understanding of science, leading astray our understanding of fear and anxiety: These days, most people think that the fear circuit gives rise directly to the emotions of fear and anxiety. LeDoux is convinced it doesn’t—and that this distinction matters a great deal.
– Casey Schwartz, New York Magazine

Ogni giorno: Tra scienza e politica (Every Day: Between Science and Politics) by DABI member Elena Cattaneo, Mondadori

Ogni giorno is a fascinating account of how a scientist entered the messy business of politics (arguably more so in Italy than in other rich countries) and learnt to survive. Cattaneo accepted the position. As one of only a few appointed by the president, the role signifies a person’s importance to national culture. But she set boundaries. She would not give up her lab, and in the Senate she would engage mainly with themes relating to science. She would apply the same rigour to evidence supporting a political hypothesis as she would to that supporting a scientific one. She would not vote if such evidence were missing, and she would vote only according to her conscience, never along any party lines.
– Alison Abbott, Nature

Cerebrum 2016: Emerging Ideas in Brain Science, edited by Bill Glovin, Dana Press

This new Cerebrum anthology, filled with interesting articles about the brain and its disorders, illustrates once again why brain science is so exciting for both the scientists who practice it and the general public that reads and talks about it.
– Eric R. Kandel, M.D., Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

(See also: our blog post on the new Cerebrum anthology, written by the editor.)

– Ali Chunovic

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