subjects are thoroughly examined with rich examples and adherence to the overarching theme.
After reading the introduction, it is possible to
skip to chapters of immediate interest without a
loss of understanding. Anyone with a broad interest in science and human culture will find insightful descriptions of how archives inform, support,
and direct the accumulation and construction of
Dr. Betsy Ott
Professor, Life Sciences
Tyler Junior College
1400 East Fifth Street
Tyler, Texas 75701
THE HUMAN MIND
Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To.
By Dean Burnett. 2017. W. W. Norton & Company,
Inc. (ISBN 978-0-393-35411-9). 328 pages. Paper.
Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett is one of the most
entertaining educational books I’ve read in a long
time. With a background in stand-up comedy and
neuroscience, Dean Burnett is able to take highly
technical, academically rich content and make it
easily understood. The author has a way of using
colorful metaphors to illustrate his examples. “To
our brains, daily life is like tightrope-walking over
a vast pit full of furious honey badgers and broken
glass; one wrong move and you’ll end up as a
gruesome mess in temporary but exquisite pain”
(p. 28). Idiot Brain covers a wide variety of topics
including regulation of the body by the brain,
memory, fear, intelligence, sensory perception,
personality, the influence of others on us and us
on them, as well as mental diseases and disorders.
Idiot Brain is well researched and includes
fifteen pages of references. The text is a rich discussion of biology (physiology) and psychology.
Included are multiple examples of how the brain
processes information and how memory works.
Burnett uses current examples and cites recent
studies. One example is when the author discusses the number of items the average person
is able to recall: “refinements and reassessment
of legitimate recall and experimental methods
have since provided data to show actual capacity
is more like four items” (p. 37).
One of the patterns within the book that I
appreciated was how frequently Idiot Brain ties
the working of the brain to evolution. Reading
this book will make one more aware of the influence of evolution on how certain behaviors and
ways of thinking have come about. It had not
occurred to me that there were so many aspects
of how the brain works that could be influenced
by evolution. Something as simple as triggering
memories when something is familiar is
explained in the light of evolution: “in the harsh
reality of the natural world, anything that’s familiar is something that didn’t kill you, so you can
concentrate on newer things that might. It makes
evolutionary sense for the brain to work this
way” (p. 50).
When discussing the difference between
“intelligent and unintelligent brains,” the author
makes logical connections between current
assumptions and logic: “One potential factor is
something that seems completely wrong: intelligent brains apparently use less power” (p. 136).
Intelligent brains have more efficient links and
connections and, therefore, use less power. Idiot
Brain is a book that I look forward to using
with my students in the classroom. The way
the book is written makes it accessible to high
school students without minimizing academic
language. It could easily be used when teaching
how the brain regulates homeostasis, as well as
behavior. Idiot Brain takes a realistic look at
how the brain works and how we think without
making it seem like one is reading a textbook.
The text is down to earth, readable, and
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THE HUMAN IMPACT
The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could
Change the World. By Oliver Morton. 2015. Princeton University Press. (ISBN 9780691175904). 428
pages. Paper. $16.95.
Oliver Morton’s book is an outstanding resource
for readers who are not climate scientists but who
want to gain a deeper and scientifically informed
understanding of climate change. The book provides
a detailed review of what is known about the many
interacting systems and cycles that affect our earth’s
climate. The reader comes to appreciate how the
earth’s climate is determined through intricately
complex and interacting systems that include carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles, the earth’s movement through the solar system, the planet’s
geology, and the solar weather. Morton also writes
about historic, political, and current social factors
that have an impact on why we are facing a climate
Within the book’s chapters Morton provides
information on possible actions that governments
or non-government organizations could take to
minimize or even prevent climate change. Some
of these actions sound like far-future science fiction, but others are feasible given current technologies. In his discussion of each type of action
Morton presents detailed scientific explanations
for how the action would work. He also discusses
the chances of success as well as economic, cultural, and political considerations.
Sections of the book hold fascinating information about the earth’s climate that make the book