cover image Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation

Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation

Christopher Kemp. Norton, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-324-00538-4

The brain’s ability to navigate takes center stage in this sharp survey from molecular biologist Kemp (The Lost Species). As he writes, “Navigation is one of the most cognitively complex tasks our brains perform.” Kemp explores this complexity from a range of perspectives: he takes readers inside research labs where scientists probe the way neurons connect with other neurons to create mental maps and images; investigates how the Tsimane people navigate dense Bolivian rainforest; demonstrates how desert ants find their way around the Sahara Desert; and digs into neurobiology research, including the 1984 discovery of head-direction cells, which function as an inner compass. Along the way, Kemp debunks numerous myths, including the idea that females possess poorer navigational skills than males, and reflects on the difference between the navigational abilities of modern humans versus those of Neanderthals. What separates the two, he suggests, is the use of the subjunctive form, which led to humans being better at navigating. Kemp peppers in accounts of his own poor navigational abilities and colorful stories of people getting lost, which keep things moving along. The result is both enjoyable and accessible. (Jan.)