cover image The Brain: The Story of You

The Brain: The Story of You

David Eagleman. Pantheon, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-87053-2

Neuroscientist and novelist Eagleman (Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain) reports on many big, recent neuroscience developments in this deceptively simple look at the universe's most complex known object: the human brain. Much of Eagleman's work covers scientists' ever-increasing appreciation of human brain plasticity. He addresses how brains rewire themselves in response to practice and discusses devices that help the brain regain damaged functions such as vision and hearing. Eagleman also shows how new technologies have revealed the reach and limits of human empathy, noting that seeing others in physical pain lights up the same neurons activated by experiencing physical pain directly%E2%80%94though they light up less brightly when the observed victims are from a different social group. Those same brain areas even light up in response to emotional rejection. Remarking that human brains are essentially "peripheral plug-and-play devices," Eagleman shows that no matter what sort of data comes in, "the brain figures out what to do with it." And he effectively unveils the stunning degree to which "we can now hack our own hardware" in order to understand, and better, ourselves. This is a straightforward, stimulating companion book to the PBS series on the subject. Illus. (Oct.)