An excellent education in brain science in seven short chapters and an introduction.
Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern who also has appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, clearly knows her neuroscience. However, like in How Emotions Are Made (2017), the author deftly employs metaphor and anecdote to deliver an insightful overview of her favorite subject. Until a few decades ago, scientists divided the brain into three layers. The core consisted of the “lizard brain,” controlling basic drives such as feeding, aggression, and mating. Around 100 million years ago, mammals evolved. A mammal experiences emotions, so evolution added a layer, the limbic system, to govern them. A few hundred thousand years ago, humans acquired an outer layer—the neocortex, or grey matter—that keeps lower levels in check and allows us to be creative, rational, and highly social. In reality, Barrett writes, our brain contains no new parts, and its neurons operate no differently than those of a fish or flea. It is not even the most highly evolved—only superbly evolved for what humans do. Humans are great thinkers, but the author maintains that brains did not evolve to think but to “control your body…by predicting energy needs before they arrive so you can efficiently make worthwhile movements and survive.” Readers will agree that our senses provide essential information for prediction but may be surprised when Barrett explains that experience (i.e., memory) plays an equally vital role. A glass of water relieves your thirst immediately, but it takes 20 minutes for the water to reach your bloodstream. Your brain, predicting correctly, turns off your thirst. The narrative is so short and sweet that most readers will continue to the 35-page appendix, in which the author delves more deeply, but with no less clarity, into topics ranging from teleology to the Myers-Briggs personality test to “Plato’s writings about the human psyche."
Outstanding popular science.
An excellent education in brain science…[Feldman Barrett] deftly employs metaphor and anecdote to deliver an insightful overview of her favorite subject… so short and sweet that most readers will continue to the 35-page appendix, in which the author delves more deeply, but with no less clarity, into topics ranging from teleology to the Myers-Briggs personality test to ‘Plato’s writings about the human psyche.’ Outstanding popular science.”—Kirkus, STARRED
"What about that 'three-pound blob between your ears'? In seven essays about the brain and a half-size one about its evolution…Barrett has crafted a well-written tribute to this wow-inducing organ."—Booklist “Beautiful writing and sublime insights that will blow your mind like a string of firecrackers. If you want a rundown of the brain and its magic, start here.”—David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist, New York Times bestselling author of Incognito and Livewired
"Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain reads like a novel—one whose main character is all of us. In fresh and lively prose, Barrett provides deep insight into what brains are for, how they operate and are programmed, how they create the ‘reality’ we experience, and how they ultimately produce our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Read this book! It will make you smarter about yourself, and your species."—Leonard Mlodinow, New York Times bestselling author of The Drunkard’s Walk, Subliminal, and Elastic
“A radical and provocative look at a range of pervasive misconceptions, emerging discoveries, and enticing mysteries regarding our very nature as individuals and intertwined social beings. By illuminating our unimaginably complex, constantly changing brain/body networks, Barrett gets to the heart of the new understanding of who and what we are as creatures, and how much latitude and agency we have."—Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), author of Full Catastrophe Living and The Healing Power of Mindfulness
"Lisa Feldman Barrett is a pioneer in neuroscience and one of today’s most provocative thinkers about the mind. Get ready to have yours blown."—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take
"A smart and delightfully breezy look at the things most of us think we know about the brain, but don't."—Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Barrett writes with a scientist's eye and a storyteller's heart. A must-read for anyone who has a brain."—Helen S. Mayberg, Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai "One of the best short, whirlwind introductions to the human brain I've ever read….[Feldman Barrett] is one of the most brilliant and bold thinkers and scientists I've ever had the pleasure of speaking with."– Lex Fridman, Lex Fridman Podcast
“[A] must-read science book. Neuroscientist Barrett takes readers on a journey from the first earthly creatures, through the musings of ancient philosophers, and to present-day neuroscience.”—Discover Magazine