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Publisher's Summary

Brilliantly exploring today's cutting edge brain research, Mind Wide Open allows readers to understand themselves and the people in their lives as never before. Using a mix of experiential reportage, personal storytelling, and fresh scientific discovery, Steven Johnson describes how the brain works and how its systems connect to the day-to-day realities of individual lives.

Johnson embarks on this path as his own test subject, participating in a battery of tests and experiments in search of a modern answer to the oldest of questions: who am I? He explores how we "read" other people, how the brain processes frightening events, what the neurochemistry is behind love and sex, how our brain teems with powerful chemicals closely related to recreational drugs, why music moves us to tears, and where our breakthrough ideas come from.

Johnson suggests that learning about the brain's mechanics can widen one's self-awareness as powerfully as any therapy, meditation or drug. To read Mind Wide Open is to rethink family histories, individual fates, and the very nature of the self.

©2003 Steven Johnson (P)2004 Tantor Media, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"It's the rare popular science book that not only gives the reader a gee-whiz glimpse at an emerging field, but also offers a guide for incorporating its new insights into one's own worldview. [Johnson] does just that in his fascinating, engagingly written new survey." (Publishers Weekly)
"Spreading a gospel to be curious about one's own mind, Johnson, aided by personal anecdotes about, for example, the length of his attention span, will snare even those unfamiliar with brain science." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Chris
  • Glen Allen, VA, United States
  • 02-02-05

Fascinating, fascinating... but short

I have always found the brain's inner workings fascinating so I was looking forward to this book, but I didn't want to get lost in medical jargon. Johnson states at the outset that he will only hit the high points, and that was what he did. The jargon was controlled and well explained, and the anecdotes were easy to follow. He repeats himself a lot, and at first I thought this was fluff to fill out the book, but then I realized it helped me remember the concept. Rather than zip from topic to topic, we dwell on one for a while before moving on to the next. This is important because each concept builds on the next.

Johnson's writing style is smooth and clever, and several times I chuckled out loud. The narrator is also good. At first he spoke in a dry monotone and I thought he was going to be horrible, but he got better once the book was well underway.

My only complaint is the book was too short! In the end, it doesn't cover a lot of ground. At least the ground it does cover is well done and topical. Recommended for anyone who is interested in a pop-sci version of neuroscience.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating and Enjoyable

I was afraid this was going to be too technical or medical but it was very easy to understand. It offered insights into how the brain functions with respect to autism, attention deficit disorder, love, laughter, fear, memory, addiction, bonding, hormones, drugs, and music. It shows how chemicals, both natural hormones and neurotransmitters as well as illicit drugs, affect our behavior, our thinking, our emotions. Being aware of what is going on inside your head gives you a new perspective on your life and those around you. It helps us understand one another at a scientific level and may lead to improvements in personal health and relationships.

The ending dragged a little for me when he got into a discussion of Freud, but I've always preferred chemistry over psychology. Most of it was very enjoyable and I thought the narrator did a great job.

I also recommend Scientific American Special Edition: The Brain: A Look Inside.

25 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bob
  • Benton, AR, USA
  • 01-14-05

Now one of my top 10 audible favorites

I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Rather than simply presenting scientific material, the author is really on a personal journey to learn more about himself by studying neuroscience. I found the material fascinating, and the presentation genuine and sincere. The reader is very clear and pleasant to listen to. This is a book I'll be keeping on my ipod for a second listen.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


This is an excellent introduction into neuroscience. If you are worried that this field of study might be to complex to understand, you will love the everyday explanations the author uses in this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding how their own brain works.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • Mission Viejo, CA, USA
  • 06-06-09


This is a must-read book for anyone interested in exploring current understandings of the human brain. It is informative without being overly technical. Perfect for laymen like me.

I have found myself talking about this book to just about everyone I know. for my middle-school to high school kids and spouse, it has been a great platform for discussions that have led us to ask more questions and Google the answers. Indeed, I have found myself growing more and more enthusiastic about this subject matter and that enthusiasm has rubbed off on my family members. Anything that inspires others to learn more is worthy of much adulation.

Mr. Johnson is to be commended for writing such an amazing work. And yes. I will be listening to it again.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • James
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 05-06-07

Thinking about thinking...

As someone who'se always been fascinated with the workings of the human race, our selves, I found this book very enlightening. The only draw back was the reader, or narrator, of the story, whose voice seemed a distraction. The guy sounded like he was out of breath. But the book and its contents were truly informative. i I see my brain differently now.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A totally new perspective on life

Every chapter has a "wow - this is amazing". After listening to the book one starts to grasp how the brain's inner workings relate to daily experiences and inter-personal relationships. Highly recommended for anyone who is wondering what is going on in the grey matter between our ears.

68 of 80 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Lightweight and Repetitive

Sol Stein has an equation for writing, 2+2 = 1. It means that more is less. He pounds this advice into authors. Too bad Steven Johnston was not one of Stein's students. Rather than a book about the brain, this work is a collection of antidotal observations about how Johnston perceives his brain works. As Stein preaches, some is very good too much detracts and this book distracts.

Unlike good science writers, Johnston misses interesting points. For example, he writes about the failure when playing a one computer game that was driven by his mind because the calibration was wrong. The main question here is not that the equipment was badly calibrated, but that calibration is necessary each time the game is played. Why does the brain need this while some other physiological measurements do not? Perhaps a deep idea here? But the book ignores this and drones on, repeating the obvious with little insight.

To be fair, there were a few bright spots; for example, when he compares the old Freudian approaches to the Ego and Id with modern understand of the brain workings, but these gems are very few, very far between and quit unpolished, almost afterthoughts.

All in all, a book only for insomniacs..

31 of 42 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Victor
  • Williamsville, NY, United States
  • 09-17-06


If you have never contemplated how the brain works and have suddenly became interested, then perhaps this would be a good book for you. Otherwise, I would suggest "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell followed by "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins. These are much more interesting without being overwhelming.

14 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Raj
  • Torrance, CA, USA
  • 02-28-05

Facing your fears.

The topic is good but the reading is medicore. Some of the fears and associated associated with terrorism are incorporated in this audio book. It's a little long winded at times.

This book will show you methods for overcoming your fears.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful