The Brain: Big Bangs, Behaviors, and Beliefs

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After several million years of jostling for ecological space, only one survivor from a host of hominid species remains standing: us. Human beings are extraordinary creatures, and it is the unprecedented human brain that makes them so. In this delightfully accessible book, the authors present the first full, step-by-step account of the evolution of the brain and nervous system.

Tapping the very latest findings in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and molecular biology, Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall explain how the cognitive gulf that separates us from all other living creatures could have occurred. They discuss the development and uniqueness of human consciousness, how human and nonhuman brains work, the roles of different nerve cells, the importance of memory and language in brain functions, and much more. Our brains, they conclude, are the product of a lengthy and supremely untidy history—an evolutionary process of many zigs and zags—that has accidentally resulted in a splendidly eccentric and creative product.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In conjunction with the exhibition Brain: The Inside Story, American Museum of Natural History curators DeSalle and Tattersall (the duo behind Human Origins: What Bones and Genomes Tell Us About Ourselves) provide an engaging and complex examination of the development of the human brain throughout its evolutionary history. The "human brain's being the hugely creative and simultaneously both logical and irrational organ that it is," the authors are comfortable using references ranging from YouTube to detailed explanations of ionotropic glutamate receptors. The first three chapters, "The Nature of Science: Our Brains at Work," "The Nitty-Gritty of the Nervous System," and "Hanging Our Brains on the Tree of Life," feature diagrams of scientific concepts and phylogenetic trees, as well as cogent illustrated analogies, as when DeSalle and Tattersall show that an increased sample size of pennies greatly decreases the probability of flipping all heads or all tails. As the book builds upon itself—like the layering of cells in a fish cortex—lay readers will likely get bogged down in technical information. However, in the chapter "Decisions, Behaviors, and Beliefs," the authors hit their stride, focusing on human neuropsychology, "The First Cosmopolitan Hominid," and "The Emergence of Modern Behavior." Given the enormity of their subject, DeSalle and Tattersall maintain an admirably consistent level of enthusiasm, but the fact remains that the brain—and this text—are incredibly complicated entities. (Apr.)
Choice - Outstanding Academic Title

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic 2012 Title for Psychology within the Social and Behavioral Sciences category.
Library Journal
Inspired by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) exhibit in New York City, Brain: the Inside Story, this book guides readers through a remarkable exploration of evolution that incorporates physical and behavioral ancestral records, compares the human brain's evolution to that of other mammals and organisms, and describes how sensory perception engages the nervous system, influencing brain development and evolution. In examining the brain's molecular responses, reflexive reactions, emotional responses, and memory, DeSalle (curator, Sackler Inst. for Comparative Genomics, AMNH) and Tattersall (curator, emeritus, anthropology, AMNH) use clear examples from the exhibit as well as humor. They cover the impact of language and linguistic development, the visual system, the hominid's use of tools, the development of complex social communities, and the importance of a diet enriched by animal fat and protein in enlarging the hominid brain. VERDICT Superbly written and well researched, this is a welcome addition to the popular neuroscience canon. It will appeal to those interested in human evolution, anthropology, brain evolution, and human consciousness. Highly recommended.—Candice A. Kail, Columbia Univ., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300175226
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 940,578
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Rob DeSalle is Curator, Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History, where he has curated several special exhibitions, including Brain: The Inside Story. Ian Tattersall is Curator Emeritus, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, and with DeSalle co-curated the Hall of Human Origins at AMNH. The authors live in New York City.

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