What Goes On In My Head? How your brain works and why you do what you do, by Robert Winston (DK 2010, 96 pages)
Even after reading this fascinating book, I'm still not sure why I do what I do (many other people might be wondering as well). But that isn't the book's fault.
What Goes On In My Head? is a high-level look at the complexities of the brain. The author succeeds in using clear language to discuss sophisticated concepts, without condescending to the younger reader by eschewing latinate words or relying on doubtful metaphors (the computer metaphor is mentioned, but not overdone).
The book kicks off with a really fascinating time line of brain related discoveries, from the trepanning practiced by paleolithic humans, to scientists of whom I had never heard (Hermann von Helholtz or Jose Delgado, anyone?). It then goes on to discuss "Brain and Body" (the most scientifically dense chapter), "I think therefore I am" (consciousness and personality), "The Feeling Mind," and "Brain Power" (memory, creativity, a critical look at psychic powers, and robot minds). I did regret that little attention was paid to how things go awry in the brain (I'm a huge fan, for instance, of Oliver Sacks), but you can't have everything.
There's a lot here, presented in true DK style with crisp paragraphs, lots of pictures, and activities for the reader's own brain. The result is a book that my older son and I found utterly engrossing. But because of the pretty high level of information presented, especially toward the beginning of the book, I think will work best for the older kid with some background in the nervous system...otherwise, all the talk of ganglias and photoreceptors and neurons might be daunting (although the later chapters, I think, are pretty easy to grasp).
Random interesting thing I learned: The unconscious part of the brain sometimes makes decisions up to ten seconds before our consciousness kicks in. I am now regarding my brain with suspicion.
Non-random bit I'm storing away in my own mind to bring out in just a few more years--"The age at which you take the most risks is 14. That could be because the 14-year old basal ganglia are in full working order, giving you the thrill of excitement during risky behaviour, but the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain controlling decisions), is still maturing, so the brakes are missing" (page 67).
The Non-Fiction Monday Roundup is at Wendie's Wanderings today!
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)