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The Brain

What Everyone Needs to Know

Kirshner, Howard S. MD

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: September 2017 - Volume 30 - Issue 3 - p 129
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000129
Book Reviews
Free Department of Neurology Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee

The reviewer declares no conflicts of interest.

This slim volume is directed at the general public. I am reviewing the book as a neurologist who is always curious about what my patients are reading about neurology, psychiatry, and neuropsychology.

Author Gary Wenk is a Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics at Ohio State University.

He has organized the book into an Introduction and six chapters, each of which has a question as the title. Within each chapter are individual sections ranging from a paragraph to at most three to four pages long, each also titled with a question.

Far from a traditional brain text, which would start with a basic review of neuroanatomy, Dr Wenk opens his book with an Introduction that provides only a drawing of brain organization. He does not get around to a fuller discussion of the brain and how it is organized until Chapter 6, entitled “How does my brain accomplish so much?” There he spends four pages on a brief overview of brain anatomy. Then he shifts the focus to “Are near-death visits to heaven real?”

Dr Wenk devotes his first chapter to memory, answering the question he poses in the title to each section. He offers a good discussion of the relative accuracy of memory and recall, with forays into depression and attention deficit disorder. He puts off discussing dementia and Alzheimer disease until Chapter 5, “How does the brain age?” In Chapter 1, he mentions choline as a precursor of acetylcholine, but he points out that eating extra choline does not do anything for one’s memory; it just causes fishy-smelling breath. In Chapter 5, he discusses the “memory supplement” Prevagen®, which I hear about from many of my older patients. Dr Wenk points out that the active ingredient in Prevagen® is apoaequorin, an “incredibly large, highly water-soluble molecule that is an excellent example of a molecule that cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. Any benefit it provides to memory is, therefore, due to the placebo effect.”

The book is well designed to appeal to adult US readers who have a limited attention span—who need a stimulus such as an apt question to keep them interested, and a new topic every page or so. The discussions are brief, practical, and informative, presented in an understandable and entertaining format.

My only criticism is that Dr Wenk has chosen his topics somewhat arbitrarily and with limited organization, as they seem to jump around.

I found the information to be unbiased and generally accurate, with some oversimplifications that may be needed for a broad audience. Dr Wenk has a gift for making complex topics seem simple. He also gives emphasis to diet and chemical changes, topics on which he is better informed than most neurologists. I liked his balanced presentations of much-hyped supplements such as choline, Prevagen®, and gingko biloba. Overall, I would recommend the book highly to the general public, and even to neurologists as an easy and entertaining read.

Howard S. Kirshner, MD Department of Neurology Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee

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