Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Brain That Changes Itself”

“The Brain That Changes Itself” is a nonfiction book written by psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge. The book is focused around the topic of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire itself in order to adapt to changing situations. Doidge writes largely in a biographical style, providing rich detail about the lives and careers of some of the field’s most prominent researchers, many of whom were initially rejected by their peers for their controversial research. As Doidge describes, it took nearly a century for neuroscience to transition from believing the brain was static after birth to the now-accepted knowledge that the adult brain continues to reform its neural connections every day. In addition to humanizing the field’s researchers, Doidge also chronicles the stories of patients who have used the power of neuroplasticity to improve their neurological conditions, including stroke, learning disorders, phantom limb syndrome, and more.

The informal and personable style of Doidge’s writing makes the book very pleasant to read. The book has an unusual mix of clinical case studies, scientific research, and personal biography. All information is given at a level that the average reader could easily understand and even apply to their own life. I don’t entirely buy into Doidge’s very Freudian views on psychoanalysis, but this didn’t distract me too much from the main thread of the book. After reading “The Brain That Changes Itself,” I felt more empowered than ever in my ability to control my brain through daily actions. This would be a great read for anyone who is affected by a neurological condition, as it demonstrates the amazing power of neuroplastic therapy to improve neurological symptoms.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Book Review: “100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s”

“100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss” is a nonfiction book written by Jean Carper, a former medical journalist best known for her award-winning 1996 book “Stop Aging Now!” Carper’s most recent book lists and describes 100 tips for reducing your risk of dementia backed up by scientific data. These include having regular eye exams, eating berries every day, and learning a second language.

“100 Simple Things” is written in jargon-free language that any reader can easily understand while also presenting scientific evidence to back each claim without exaggerating the predicted results. Carper demonstrates a deep understanding of the science of Alzheimer’s disease and following even a few of her tips are quite likely to improve the health of your brain as you age. The back of the book provides an excellent guide for creating “Your Anti-Alzheimer’s Plan,” describing how to incorporate these tips into your lifestyle successfully.

One possible conflict of interest with this book is the fact that Jean Carper is the founder of a vitamin and supplement company called Stop Aging Now, best known for the anti-aging multivitamin that Carper designed. Carper sold the company before publishing this book and no longer has any financial connections, but it’s worth keeping this in mind when reading her advice on supplements. Many experts agree it’s best to get nutrients from your diet rather than from a pill whenever possible, although some supplements such as fish oil are still recommended for brain health. My only other criticism is that the book chapters can be a bit redundant. For example, at least five of the tips essentially described the importance of keeping your brain stimulated through mental activity, several others all discussed social interaction, etc. In my opinion, the book could have easily been condensed into 50 or 75 tips.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is experiencing or at risk of dementia, has a loved one with dementia, or simply wants to learn more about brain health. It is easy to follow, scientifically valid, and realistic for anyone to incorporate into their lifestyle.

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Book Review: “Your Brain on Food”

“Your Brain on Food” is a nonfiction book written by Dr. Gary Wenk, a professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the Ohio State University. The book gives a detailed look at how various drugs affect our brains and also touches on what these drugs can teach us about various mental disorders. The chapters are organized by the neurotransmitters (your brain’s chemical signals) that each class of drugs affects.

My first impression of this book is that it would be more aptly named “Your Brain on Psychoactive Drugs.” While there is some mention of food, including cinnamon and coffee, licit and illicit drugs are the primary focus. Though it’s true that the line between “drug” and “food” is often fuzzy (i.e., coffee is a food but also contains psychoactive chemicals), the book’s title implies an emphasis on what we’d typically consider food, which simply is not present. That being said, if you’re looking to learn more about psychoactive drugs, from why allergy meds make you drowsy to why heroin is so addictive, this book provides an excellent overview of that topic.

This book may present something of a challenge for a reader who has not taken a recent class in neuroscience or pharmacology. However, if you’re willing to keep your smartphone handy to occasionally Google unfamiliar words or topics, I believe most people will be able to get the gist of what’s being said. Whether or not you’ve partaken in illicit drug use in the past, you’ll be amazed to learn how and why each drug has such different affects on our behavior, as well as what these highs and lows have helped us to learn about the neurotransmitters that allow our brain to function.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Book Review: “Still Alice”

Lisa Genova’s Still Alice is a fictional novel that tells the story of a successful neuroscientist who is diagnosed with early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout the book, Alice grapples with the frustrations that face anyone affected by Alzheimer’s disease, from becoming disoriented while traveling to the humiliation of incontinence. We follow her from mild cognitive decline over several years to profound dementia in the later stages of her life. The book was made into a movie in 2014.

Being a neuroscientist herself (one who parallels Alice in a variety of ways), Lisa Genova is more than familiar with the science of Alzheimer’s disease. Her discussion of the genetics of familial Alzheimer’s disease, as detailed during Alice’s visits to a genetic counselor, is both informative and interesting to read. We witness the gradual progression of Alice’s symptoms in all its unfiltered rawness. Despite being fictional, Still Alice maintains its scientific accuracy throughout the story.

Despite including discussions of genetics and neuroscience, the information is portrayed in a way that is easily understandable to the average reader. The poignant emotions and vidid imagery throughout the book make it captivating from beginning to end. The story is simultaneously heartbreaking and full of hope and beauty. An abundance of rich detail often made me forget that the story was fictional. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Overall Rating: 5 stars

 

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