Skip to main content

30-Second Brain – Anil Seth (Ed) ****

I have mixed feelings about this kind of book. Personally I don’t get a lot out of reading them – I would rather have a book that reads through with ‘proper’ text – but a lot of people do like this kind of bite-sized format, with two page articles, the left a couple of hundred words of text and the right an image to support the text.
Frankly, some work a lot better than others, and for some reason, 30-Second Brain is one of the better ones in the series. Perhaps because there isn’t a lot of mathematical depth to the subject, the short essays did build up a rather nice picture of our knowledge of the workings of the brain. I was rather unnerved to see the discredited Freud mentioned, but it was only a passing reference, and wasn’t really supporting one of his top-of-the-head (literally) theories.
There are an awful lot of good popular science books out there on the brain, and I would regard this as a smorgasbord taster – an opportunity to sample some of the delights, but being aware that, for instance, if you wanted to know more about the impact of brain training, you should pick up a copy of Smarter.
Overall, a sound and informative addition to the series.
Paperback:  
Kindle version:  
(I’d only go for the Kindle version if you are using a tablet/Kindle Fire – you’d lose a lot in black and white)
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

Lost Solace (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

There was a time when you would be hard pushed to find a science fiction novel with a female main character. As I noted when re-reading Asimov's Foundation, in 189 pages, women appear on just five pages - and they're very much supporting cast. But the majority of new SF novels I've read this year have had female main characters, including The Real Town Murders, Austral and Andy Weir's upcoming Artemis.

That's certainly the case in Karl Drinkwater's engaging Lost Solace. It's really a two hander between military renegade Opal and her ship's AI, Clarissa. There are a few male characters, but they are either non-speaking troops she battles or a major with whom she has a couple of short video conversations. That summary gives an unfair military flavour to the whole thing - in practice, the majority of the action, which is practically non-stop throughout the book, involves Opal trying to survive as she explores a mysterious, apparently abandoned liner in a de…