The Hostage Brain.

The Hostage Brain. – book reviews

By Bruce S. McEwen and Harold M. Schmeck, Jr. Illustrated by Lydia Kibiuk. Published by The Rockefeller University Press. Price. $19.95.

Many people are vaguely aware of the power of the human brain, which has sent messages to the farthest reaches of the solar system, but few are aware of its vulnerability to quirks of temperature, chemistry, infection, and physical impact. It can be captured by the flood of hormones it sends pulsing through the body, or taken hostage by outside events and even by its own thoughts.

A distinguished research scientist and former science writer have joined forces to illuminate for a lay audience — through clear prose and striking, full-color illustrations — what the brain is, how it functions, and how it is often subverted.

The Hostage Brain reveals the most recent advances in brain research, but, unlike other books on the brain, it describes key discoveries together with the social and political implications that surround them. The story is as immediate as a news headline yet as timeless as Homer’s Odyssey. It reveals what stress can do to the brain, how “jet lag” can distort memory, and how the adult can be taken hostage by events that affected fetus or infant. We also learn what brain research can tell us about sex, violence, and the mind’s influence on health and illness — why there may be a good and a bad way to grow old.

Ranging across the lifetime of influences — from heredity to adult lifestyle — the book distills the best of current research. It invites the reader to think of the human brain in its global role, not as a thing apart from everyday life, but as the organ that invented politics, philosophy, all of the arts, and even the strange, uniquely human, traits of mercy and compassion.

The Hostage Brain pays careful attention to scientific accuracy, but it is not written primarily for scientists. Its clear, jargon-free language can be understood and appreciated by anyone. It is written to appeal to a broad audience of adults and young people, including bright high school students. It tempts all of us to think about our brains and to wonder, in a more informed way than before, just why we all think and act the way we do.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Vegetus Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group