Review Your Brain: The Missing Manual

Discussion in 'Articles, Reviews and Interviews' started by tripwire45, Jun 6, 2008.

  1. tripwire45
    Honorary Member

    tripwire45 Zettabyte Poster

    Author: Matthew MacDonald
    Format: Paperback, 274 pages
    Publisher: Pogue Press ( May 29, 2008 )
    ISBN-10: 0596517785
    ISBN-13: 978-0596517786

    Review by James Pyles
    June 6, 2008

    This isn't the sort of book I usually review. I don't know if you can say it has much to do with the computing industry, but it is on a topic that we all have in common (hopefully). I don't always consider myself the brightest bulb in the ceiling, so when I saw this book was available and read the subtitle, "How to get the most from your mind", I couldn't resist and asked for a review copy. Here's how it goes.

    One of the first things I do when I get a book for review, is to take a look at the back cover. The material there usually offers a nice summary of the content contained therein. I didn't find this back cover blurb to be particularly helpful. It seemed too "general", saying in part, "One part science guide, one part self-help concierge...grounded in...neuroscience, psychology, and nutritional wisdom..." I have a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a master's in Counseling, so I have something of the necessary background to review the material, but a neuroscientist, I'm not. What's the average reader going to make of it?

    Where it really got mysterious was when I read the author's bio. He's a programmer. Imagine that. Now imagine that he doesn't program human brains, but instead, is the author of books involving Excel 2007, Access 2007 and creating web sites. Where does a "Missing Manual" on the brain fit in? The three technical reviewers for the book each have varying degrees of experience in neuroscience, so that helps. Maybe the secret is in its practical approach. At least according to the front matter, the focus of this text is not just on how the brain works but "...on how you can use it more effectively". Perhaps MacDonald is going to share the techniques he's learned to keep his mind ("mind"..."brain"...can you really use these terms interchangeably?) sharp. Let's see.

    Chapter 1 goes through a basic tour of the brain, and does so in a way that most people will be able to understand the topic. MacDonald has written it for the "average reader" (whoever that is), so topics like Neurons and Synapses won't be entirely puzzling. I liked the Mental Fitness section of the chapter which basically tells the reader "You are what you think (and do)". He illustrates that worrying about your life while eating Cheetos and watching American Idol is " your brain to be a better Cheetos-eater, TV watcher, and chronic worrier". That comment alone should make you take stock of just how you spend your time (and thus, just what you are training your brain to do "better"). I guess this is where the "practical" part of the book comes in.

    As the back cover stated, MacDonald really did write this book to be part roadmap and part activity guide. Learning how your (well, everyone's) brain works lays the groundwork for understanding how to improve (or screw up) your brain's functioning. After all, most people want to learn to be smarter and not dumber (unless Beavis and Butthead are your role models), so naturally, you'll gravitate towards information that will lead to the former.

    The athletes and nutritionists in the audience will like Chapter 2, since it focuses on the fuel the brain uses to power itself. If you are serious about any sport (doing, not watching), you probably pay at least some attention to how the foods you eat affect your performance. The brain (at least as it's presented in this book) is just another part of your body, and it only runs as well as the fuel you give it (try putting a little water in your car's gas tank along with gas and see what happens). One thing you'll learn is that grabbing a donut or some other highly sugared treat is exactly the wrong thing to do for a quick brain boost. You'll also learn how to tailor your diet (yeah, I know..."die" with a "t" on the end) to maximize brain performance. Those of you who are concerned about how food impacts the rest of your body, will likely find MacDonald's recommendations are generally good for the overall "you".

    Will this book make you smarter? Heck, I don't know. There have been just a ton of self-help books on this topic published over the past several decades. Frankly, I haven't spent enough time practicing what the book preaches to tell if it makes a difference or not. The advice seems to make sense, and if you rely on the credentials of the technical editors and the reputation of the Missing Manual series, you'd have to assume that this is a good purchase.

    I know that it is possible to train yourself not just to learn new information, but to learn how to learn better. I know what you do affects how you learn. If you don't get enough sleep, you don't learn as effectively. If you eat the wrong foods, your body in general (including the brain) doesn't perform as well. I also know (and the book addresses this as well) that there are things you can't change. If you don't have a brain like Albert Einstein's, you won't be able to solve the same problems that he did. Some brains are better learners using certain teaching methods than others (not everyone excels in a standard classroom environment). Some brains are better learners of certain types of knowledge/behaviors than others (which is probably why Mozart was a musical genius while I'm a musical moron).

    I can't make any promises about this book in terms of what it will do for you. I can't even make those promises to myself. It takes time to practice what MacDonald offers and to see the results. The best I can say is to give it a whirl and to post back the results here. Good luck and good thinking.
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  2. Tinus1959

    Tinus1959 Gigabyte Poster

    I allways thought the brain was the most important part of my body, untill I realized what made me think that way.:biggrin
    Certifications: See my signature

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