College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Up front, it has to be said that this is not the most in-depth book you can read on the brain or neuroplasticity, but that is not the point. The thing that makes this book imiportant is that it furthers the growing work that shows that we have the power to modify our own brains by modifying our own thinking and behavior and that this, in fact, works better in the long run than cramming more psychotropic drugs down our gullets for every little mental complaint. (No one is suggesting that drugs be eliminated for serious cases!) It moves from the brain as machine idea of the functionalists and reintroduces free will and personal empowerment and responsibility to the picture. Read this along with the work of Jeffery Schwartz, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goldman.
to actually discuss the book here, as everyone else seems obsessed with the narrator. This is an interesting book on neuropsychology, though it is not the most in-depth one that you will find. Read this one starting out, before approaching Sachs, Ramachandran, Gazziniga and Seung--afterward, and it will seem a bit of a step down. Davidson does a nice job of breaking down the emotional life into six simple (if even sometimes a bit oversimplified) categories and then--the most interesting part--shows us the brain function that accompanies each. It serves as a nice primer for emotion and brain function and might be taken nicely with Daniel Goleman's book Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence.... All right, there are no car chases in this book (it's neurology for heaven's sake!), and the narrator is no broadway performer. But it's a book, right? Someone is reading you a book so you don't have to. Let's stop whining so much about narrators and review books here.
with a very interesting turn on Darwinian psychology/sociology. Haidt does a deft and often humorous job of translating current neo-Darwinian science of the mind into lay terms (though he is not as deft or humorous as Steven Pinker--whose books are better), and his metaphors for how the mind works and for how the mind works in a complex society are well crafted. I did have a couple of reservations: the first is his breezy treatment of drugs like Prozac and Paxil as treatment for "everyday" anxiety and depression (that is, problems not bad enough to be labelled "disorder" in correlation with the DSM-IV description)--despite a vast amount of evidence regarding what sometimes amount to devastating side effects, especially in children and young adults, and the incredible over-medication of our society at large, Haidt encourages use of such drugs for NOS anxiety and depression without reservation. Also, if you have read Pinker, Wright, Dawkins, Dennett, or many of the other current Darwinian psychologists, you are going to have encountered A LOT of this stuff before. When explaining Darwinian psychology and sociology, Haidt doesn't bring a lot of new stuff to the table--unless this is the first book on the topic that you have read. The same old examples, ants, bats, etc... But these are relatively minor complaints... the application of the Darwinian style of seeing the human mind in regard to happiness and the use of ancient wisdom to back up his points make this book well worth reading.