In April 2013, the author of this Very Short Introduction, Michael O'Shea, pulled together a very swish Instant Expert feature on the human brain for the magazine New Scientist. I picked up this VSI because of the quality of the magazine feature and was not disappointed.
O'Shea's introduction is important in two ways: it scopes what a 127 page book can cover of such an enormous topic, and it demonstrates O'Shea's exposition style with a stimulating review of the process of reading. The book is structured with an historical perspective, descriptions of electrical and chemical signaling mechanisms (including a background on brain imaging tools), nervous system evolution, response to sensations and perceptions, and explanations of the basic mechanisms of short and long term memory. O'Shea's area of expertise comes to the fore in a brief discussion of brain/computer interfaces and artificial nervous networks. Citations are not provided although the Further Reading is useful if now a little dated.
Stand out aspects of this book are O'Shea's explanations of neural signaling. As a reader with a biology background, I found his explanations unusually fresh and intelligible; the chapter on neural evolution offers a sound context for the other information on brain structure and function; and the chapter on perception gives very clear and insightful explanations and examples, for instance on the interplay between the eyes and the lateral geniculate nuclei in the deceptively simple art of depth perception. Memory mechanisms are explained concisely and, again, with a rare clarity. I have generally found Oxford's VSI series to be well directed, either attempting a rounded description of a topic or a more incisive exploration of specific aspects. The Brain, A Very Short Introduction is a standout, combining both these approaches in a vibrant and clear exposition.