I’ve enjoyed Dean Burnett’s Guardian column for a while, so I looked forward to reading his first book, The Idiot Brain.
Overall, I enjoyed the book very much. It is laid out in sections corresponding to different aspects of how the brain works, but clearly shows by careful linking of material that the brain isn’t that straightforward – the interactions between the various parts and processes can have some fascinating (and sometimes rather amusing) results.
Dean Burnett writes as though he is talking to you, which makes the text clear and straightforward. There are sections which describe the specific structures in the brain and neurological interactions which might be a little difficult to get to grips with, but not knowing what some of these things are will in no way stop a reader from understanding the concepts Burnett is explaining. Links to ordinary experiences we have all had helps this book be very relevant to what actually happens in everyday life, and could be an excellent springboard if you would like to study further (the reference list is excellent).
Naturally I was most interested in the chapter on mental illness, which Burnett covers not just in terms of the scientific/medical model, but also in a very human way. Burnett’s compassion for people who have mental health problems including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety and schizophrenia really shines though the text. Understanding what is going on in the brain, and how it may have arisen, could be very helpful for someone who is struggling with their own metal illness or that of a loved-one.
Some of the psychological experiments described were ones I was already familiar with, and some I was not – so this book could also be a good introduction the history of psychological study. The section on personality testing was eye-opening, although I would have liked the text to expand a bit more on the Dean’s thoughts on the usefulness (or otherwise) of the widespread use of Myers-Briggs personality testing in the corporate world – especially as this was an area I specifically looked at during part of my training.
I do recommend this book, and if you enjoyed it you might also like these:
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (which I have previously reviewed)
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks
The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment by Babette Rothschild
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman