cover image Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To

Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To

Dean Burnett. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-25378-8

British neuroscientist Burnett, author of the Guardian blog Brain Flapping, packs an incredible amount of information into an accessible package with this breezy, charming collection of pop neuroscience musings on “how the human brain does its own thing despite everything the modern world can throw at it.” As the title suggests, Burnett highlights the dysfunctional results that occur when evolutionarily sensible systems engage with contexts that hominin ancestors would never have experienced, such as the motion sickness caused by the brain reading the mismatch between seeing a landscape move and the body feeling still, or the creation of conspiracy theories via the brain’s tendency toward pattern matching. Burnett also addresses many basics of human behavior—including anxiety, attention, memory, personality, and intelligence—with clear references to both classic and current studies in psychology and biology, while keeping a critical eye on the limits of studies and their possible misapplication. He shares a teasing love for the quirks of human behavior and adopts an appropriately serious tone when discussing actual mental disorders. Burnett’s smart, likable, self-referential, and very approachable personal voice permeates the text; readers will learn a lot from him, and will also just plain enjoy his work. Agent: Chris Wellbelove, Greene & Heaton (U.K.). (July)