I’ve just finished Carl Zimmer’s new e-book Brain Cuttings that collects fifteen of his previous long-form mind and brain articles and, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was kindly sent an advanced copy of the book which is only available as a pdf for your Kindle or other electronic reader. As I don’t own one, I took the file to the local copy shop and got it printed out (a paper version of the ‘iPad’ known as the ‘Pad’).
I was particularly impressed by the sheer range of the pieces that cover everything from the neurobiology of astrocytes (in a chapter entitled The Brain’s Dark Matter) to an account of a trip the Singularity Summit, a conference of techno-utopians who are working towards augmented immortality for the human race.
The piece on the Singularity is probably the stand-out section of the book as it takes a level-headed look at the movement’s claims for brain enhancement and super-intelligence without engaging in literary eye-rolling or ever losing a sense of wonder for the genuine scientific advances incorporated into the ideas.
In terms of the science, the book is absolutely faultless, which is sadly not something your average reader can take for granted when it comes to neuroscience or psychology journalism, and Zimmer writes in a remarkably clear style that makes absorbing even some of the most technical aspects seem as natural as breathing.
At times, I yearned for a little more exploration of the characters we encounter on the journeys, but the length of the pieces means they tend to focus more on the ideas than the scenes.
I’m not familiar with the e-book market but $11 for a 100 page book struck me as a little steep. However, I note that the book is an experiment in itself and is only available electronically, something of a first from such as well-established author.
Whether you are an enthusiast, a professional psychologist or neuroscientist, or a combination, you will probably learn much from the book due to its breadth of vision. Regardless of who you are you are sure to enjoy the engaging immersions in some of the most interesting ideas in contemporary science.