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by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang
Bloomsbury USA, 2008
Review by Jodi Forschmiedt on Feb 23rd 2010

Welcome to Your Brain

"It's not brain surgery!"  This often-used refrain means "it's not difficult," a tacit acknowledgment of the complexity of the human brain and the immense skill that must be possessed by those who tamper with it.  The brain doesn't just serve us, as the heart and the gall bladder do--arguably, the brain is us.  We obsess over our brains yet find them too intimidating to examine closely.

Authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang feed our curiosity and overcome our resistance to brain study by offering an exceedingly user-friendly manual.  Full of anecdotes and boxed factoids, Welcome to Your Brain provides easily digestible, jargon-free chunks of information that any brain can absorb.

Six sections organize the book:

  1. Your brain and the world
  2. Coming to your senses
  3. How your brain changes throughout life
  4. Your emotional brain
  5. Your rational brain
  6. Your brain in altered states

Each section includes five or six short (less than ten pages) chapters, organized around interesting questions, tips, and myths.  A chapter titled Happiness and How We Find It, for example, offers tips on how to increase your own happiness.  In Your Dreams: The Neuroscience of Sleep discusses why yawning is contagious.  And who could resist reading a tip called "Tricking your brain into helping you lose weight"?

Aamodt and Wang have a chatty writing style and refer to themselves in the first person plural.  The chapter on aging begins, "We hadn't been paying much attention to the research on aging and how to improve our chances of keeping our brains healthy for as long as possible.  Now we're glad we wrote this book, because it's time for us to make some lifestyle changes that should make our retirement years happier."  Their familiarity further increases the accessibility of the material.

The book does include a brief primer on brain structure and biology, but readers looking for a thorough grounding won't find it here.  Many other books cover those matters in detail.  Pick up Welcome to Your Brain if you would like to know the answer to questions like, does acupuncture work?  Or, how does your brain know a joke is funny?  Or, should you cram for an exam?   

I'll bet you're wondering how the authors suggest you increase your happiness.  "Win the lottery" turns out to be ineffective.  Instead, Aamodt and Wang say, focus on positive events, practice using your character strengths, and remember to be grateful.  Just be sure and take good care of your brain, so you can remember to remember.


© 2010 Jodi Forschmiedt


Jodi Forschmiedt is a freelance writer and book reviewer in Seattle, Washington.

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