The Brain: Big Bangs, Behaviors, and Beliefs

Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall, illus. by Patricia J. Wynne. Yale Univ., $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-300-17522-6
In conjunction with the exhibition Brain: The Inside Story, American Museum of Natural History curators DeSalle and Tattersall (the duo behind Human Origins: What Bones and Genomes Tell Us About Ourselves) provide an engaging and complex examination of the development of the human brain throughout its evolutionary history. The "human brain's being the hugely creative and simultaneously both logical and irrational organ that it is," the authors are comfortable using references ranging from YouTube to detailed explanations of ionotropic glutamate receptors. The first three chapters, "The Nature of Science: Our Brains at Work," "The Nitty-Gritty of the Nervous System," and "Hanging Our Brains on the Tree of Life," feature diagrams of scientific concepts and phylogenetic trees, as well as cogent illustrated analogies, as when DeSalle and Tattersall show that an increased sample size of pennies greatly decreases the probability of flipping all heads or all tails. As the book builds upon itself—like the layering of cells in a fish cortex—lay readers will likely get bogged down in technical information. However, in the chapter "Decisions, Behaviors, and Beliefs," the authors hit their stride, focusing on human neuropsychology, "The First Cosmopolitan Hominid," and "The Emergence of Modern Behavior." Given the enormity of their subject, DeSalle and Tattersall maintain an admirably consistent level of enthusiasm, but the fact remains that the brain—and this text—are incredibly complicated entities. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/16/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 40 pages - 978-1-59373-085-7
Paperback - 354 pages - 978-0-300-20572-5
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-300-18356-6
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