A Portrait of The Brain by Adam Zeman


Published by Yale University Press
A Portrait of the Brain by Adam Zeman is a new book describing how the brain works (and does not work) in something of an Oliver Sack’s experiential manner, but with a twist.

Zeman is a Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at the Peninsula Medical School. A Portrait of The Brain describes the brain with reference to a sort of hierarchical scale (mainly of size) ranging from the atom to the soul, and running through such constructs as the organelle, the cell, the brain region, and the individual.

Each of these levels is a stopping point for a discussion of the biological meaning of structures at this scale generally, brain function in particular, and one or more disorders of the brain best understood at this level. These discussions are further elaborated with informative historical references.

~ A repost for Back to School Special ~

At the atomic level, for instance, Zeman describes an experience with a patient who’s neurological problem stemmed from an elemental imbalance in the blood interfering with the oxygenation of her neural tissues. Discussion of the mitochondria addresses MELAS disorder. When he moves from cells to systems, he describes neural circuitry. He has an excellent description of what the soul is all about, that I heartily agree with, but I’ll let you discover it yourself.

The book is a little unusual in the way it is written, but in a good way, and it is fully accessible to the average non-neurobiologist, yet not utterly dumbed down as to annoy someone with a bit of prior reading or coursework in this area. The text is loaded with cultural allusion (literary and otherwise) and steeped with generally useful metaphor, and at the same time offers reasonable mechanistic and anatomical descriptions of the important parts that work (or not) in the brain.

Zeman, or should I call him Zeperson, fails to make all of the language gender neutral. This is a shortcoming of his and the editors. It is 2008, guys, we’re more used to gender neutral than gendered terms.

I recommend the book for anyone who is interested in brain, disorders of the mind, or related areas.

This book has a decent glossary, a quirky appendix, and a an OK index.

More book reviews.

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2 thoughts on “A Portrait of The Brain by Adam Zeman

  1. Greg, please correct your spelling of Peninsula…it’s bugging me :), thanks for the info, I’ll look out for the book, it looks interesting.

  2. Greg often has typos, gwen. It has become part of his “style”. I like to think he puts them in on purpose so as not to appear superior to the rest of us. I think it’s a Minnesota thing.

    My favorite in this post is “Nerology”.

    I’m feeling less inferior already. Thanks, Greg!

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