The Brain  |  Michael O’Shea  |  Nonfiction, Neuroscience  |  2005

I’ve recently been on a bit of a VSI binge, The Brain being my second one after Genes.  I’ve also finished Human Anatomy, which I will be reviewing soon, and am currently within the first few chapters of Computer Science.  (For those unaware, the VSI or ‘Very Short Introductions‘ series is a collection of short books, covering a variety of topics, written by subject experts.)

I first started reading the VSI series because I was casually interested in a few subjects, but I’ve realised now that they’re actually quite good at giving a solid overview of a topic before going into a deep dive.  For example, I’m currently learning how to code, and I find the book on computer science very useful in helping me pull together different pieces of a bigger picture in regard to that field.

The Brain is one that I picked up about a year ago, but never got around to reading until a couple months back.  I like to know how things work at a very detailed level, and this book did a great job of explaining the brain’s workings to a non-neuroscientist.  Before finishing the book I had thought that we, as an advanced civilisation, had a good grasp on the brain’s inner workings, capabilities, etc., but I’ve come to understand that there’s much more to learn and discover.

Quick summary

The book is divided into chapters that cover the anatomy of the brain, how it operates at a cellular and molecular level, connectivity between the brain and body, a bit about how the brain has evolved from a single-celled organism, how our senses work, memory, and what we can do with knowledge about the brain now and in the future.


My favourite part was on the evolution of the brain and how the development branched for different species according to various environments and stimulants.  I thought it was a good reminder that we’re not all that different from each other, and that all living things are connected.  I also love that the more we learn about the brain, the more we can help those who suffer.  For example, understanding the process for hearing in the brain helped create cochlear impacts for the Deaf and hard of hearing.

Is it for you?

Overall I enjoyed reading The Brain and learnt quite a few interesting things.  I would absolutely recommend this short book to others, especially because it’s a quick, pick-up-put-down read, and light and easy to carry (great for commutes on the Tube!).