Reviewed by David Young
Tales From Both Sides of the Brain is the autobiography of one of the leading neuroscientists in the world, famous for his experiments with split-brain patients who have been operated on as a cure for epilepsy, from whom he was able to discover ground-breaking and often surprising information on how the 2 sides of the brain work and the interaction between them.
Although there is occasionally some technical jargon, Michael S. Gazzaniga has a knack for making the difficult comprehensible, and draws the reader along in his quest. He tells his story in a fluent and engaging style, often self-deprecatingly, and comes across as a genuinely nice guy with a talent for making friends and enjoying life generally.
Remarkably, he becomes close friends with his “subjects”, many of whom undergo experiments over a period of up to 25 years at his hands, apparently with the greatest of pleasure. The author goes behind the scenes of the scientific process, and we get to see the many hours of hard and often frustrating work which go into making progress – plus the role which sheer chance plays in discoveries.
Equally enlightening is his description of the reality of scientific research and the people who practice it – these are not altruistic geniuses working to save mankind, but often ambitious and jealous rivals who spend much of their time politicking and scrabbling after grant money to further their careers. The characters of the main protagonists come across vividly, and the author certainly doesn’t spare himself !
If there is one criticism I would have of this book, it is the author’s tendency to superlatives – every one of his colleagues is a genius, every house he lives in is an architectural masterpiece, everywhere he visits is paradise. Just occasionally I was hoping that something in his life might not be perfect, but apparently not… This did not substantially detract from my reading enjoyment, though. I learnt a lot about how the brain functions and will definitely investigate the author’s other books on the subject.
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There is an ebook available for Tales From Both Sides of the Brain here.
Other books by this author include Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique and The Ethical Brain.