On the brain train

Tom kindly sent me a copy of his new book The Rough Guide to Brain Training which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading. I don’t think you’re ever going to get the most objective review from someone who’s already an admirer of Tom’s work, but I shall do my best.

I have to say, I’m not a big fan of puzzles, largely, it must be said, because I’m useless at them. The book is full of puzzles, but thankfully for me, they are interspersed by essays and snippets that give you a remarkably honest and science-based view of ‘brain training’ and the evidence for it.

In fact, right on the first page, in the introduction, the book is clear:

For now, it is safe to say that we don’t know of any magic bullets for brain training – there is no single kind of task or set of tasks which will improve brain fitness. And anyone who claims otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.

This is such as refreshing change from brain training books and games that make wild claims and go on about ‘neuroplasticity’ without understanding what it means and not knowing when it’s relevant.

There is none of that here. Everything is drawn from the science (Tom’s put all the references online, if you want to read up) and the book has many short essays that introduce you to how the brain works, how to keep it in good condition and how to optimise learning.

Also, virtually every page has a short paragraph giving a neuroscience fact taken from the research literature. For example:

American physician Robert Bartholow was the first to directly show that electrical activity on the surface of the brain controlled the body. In 1874, Bartholow was able to provoke movements of the body and limbs of patient Mary Rafferty by inserting electrodes through a hole in her skull.

There’s lots more where that came from. To be honest, if you’re not into puzzles there’s going to be a fair chunk of the book that’ll serve as no more than eye candy, but if you do, you’ll find them accompanied by some great short essays and snippets.

Link to more information on the book.
Link to essay written for the book but only available online.

Full disclosure: we both write for Mind Hacks, but I suspect if you’re reading this, you already know.

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