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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Charles DeCarli, MD (University of Kansas School of Medicine)
Description: This is an anthology of the early history of scientific investigation into the structure and function of the human brain. The authors approach this from the historical narrative and include appropriate and enriching philosophical "diversions" in order to accurately portray the theoretical context from which many of these early neurologic observations arose.
Purpose: The authors' stated purpose is to "...look back on antecedent events in neuroscience," to "...impart an urge to know more." The authors produce a book that describes in detail the primitive history of neuroscience. There are many beautiful illustrations taken from the original texts, which enhance the authenticity of the historical anthology. Unfortunately, some of these illustrations reinforce the primitive nature of the observations. In addition, while the authors strive to link this anthology to current neuroscience, one is left with the sense that they fell a little short. It is almost as though the authors themselves are not aware of the explosion of knowledge which accompanied the "Decade of the Brain."
Audience: I believe the authors intended an enthusiastic audience of young neuroscientists wishing to know the roots of their present dogma. Unfortunately, I suspect that the authors constructed a book more inclined to be read by older neuroscientists and neurologists who have a particular fondness for history. Moreover, the title is somewhat misleading as this book eloquently discusses early discoveries in the human brain, but is not intended to address the plethora of more recent neuroscience advances. As one of the founders of the Society for Neuroscience, Dr. Marshall is clearly an authority on this subject. Dr. Magoun's contributions to neuroscience also are well recognized.
Features: The quality of the illustrations is generally quite good. The book is somewhat over illustrated, particularly as it relates to photographs and illustrations of the investigators. Since this is an historical book, currency is not an issue. Importantly, much of the historical milestone publications is cited in its original form, allowing the reader the opportunity to return to the original text if he/she desires. The book appears primarily organized from a chronological standpoint. While this gives the reader a flavor for the development of the science within the context of social and philosophical evolution, it makes for a somewhat disjointed presentation. For example, chapters 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 all speak to "higher cortical function" and might have been bundled together to allow the reader to see the conceptual development of how neuroscientists view the "mind." There are too many disjointed photographs without an apparent theme beyond "history." Moreover, while I believe the choice of color for the pages was intended to give an historical feel to the book, it actually gives an out-of-date feel to the book.
Assessment: It quite clearly captures the scientific, intellectual, historical, and philosophical development of early scientific investigations leading to the basic tenets of brain structure and function. This early work is richly detailed and carefully woven into the context of the larger historical perspective. The result is a book ideal for the individual interested in scientific history, and would also serve well as a reference for libraries. The authors' attempts to be all inclusive, however, give us only the panoramic view and ends in history just before the explosion of neuroscience knowledge which presently touches almost all our lives.