The Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett | Book Review

Title: The Idiot Brain

Author: Dean Burnett

Category: Psychology, Neuroscience

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10-word summary: The human brain is pretty impressive, but also quite stupid.

About The Idiot Brain

The Idiot Brain is the kind of book you should read if you want to get an overview of how the human brain works. It addresses interesting topics such as sleep, fear, memory, personality, intelligence and relationships.

The core message of the book is that the human brain is impressive and sophisticated while at the same time being quite stupid sometimes. It’s also eye-opening to discover how the brain collects, edits and alters information without you even realizing it.

What I like about The Idiot Brain

1. The book is great for an overview of human psychology

If you want to get an overview of some important mechanisms and functions of the brain, this book is a good choice. The Idiot Brain is informative, interesting and easy to read at the same time.

2. It covers interesting topics

The book covers different and diverse topics such as: the way memories are formed, why we probably need sleep, what intelligence is and how to improve it, personality and personality tests and more.

3. The author sets the record straight on popular myths

The author, Dean Burnett, is a neuroscientist and in this book he doesn’t shy away from setting the record straight on some popular myths about the brain. For example, he doesn’t believe that the computer is a good analogy for the brain. The only reason why you should tell a neuroscientist that the brain is like a computer is if you want to make them twitch from frustration.

He also warns us that we need to be very skeptical of substances and techniques that “boost brain power”, the MBTI personality tests and NLP.

4. The book is well-written, easy to read and quite funny at times

The book is written for the general audience, so it is easy to read. I liked that despite the complex topic of the book, it was not a challenging read and the author often uses a humorous tone.

5. It is science-based

Given that the author of the book is a neuroscientist, this is not a surprise. But I just want to mention here that the book is well-researched and science-based. It includes many footnotes and references you can check for extra information.

What I don’t like about The Idiot Brain

1. It is an informative book, but somehow it didn’t seem very insightful to me

This may not necessarily be a criticism of the book The Idiot Brain, but more a reflection of my own experience reading it. The book was informative and interesting, but for some reason I enjoyed it less than I thought I would. This could be due to the fact that I have been reading many psychology books and I already knew some of the information in it. Or perhaps, if I were to read it another time, I would like it more.
I just wanted to add this here and to let you know that this is a good book and you may enjoy it much more than I did.

2. The book doesn’t seem to have a common thread that brings together all the different topics

This is a common criticism I have of books that aim to present an overview of a big topic. While the book is well-written and easy to follow, sometimes it is not clear what the next section or chapter will cover and why. The topics seem arbitrarily chosen and I do not see a common thread uniting them.

To be honest, I think this is less of a complaint and more of an observation and something I’d like you to know before you buy the book. I believe that writing this sort of book – an introduction or an overview of a complex field – is a challenge in itself. Finding a coherent structure for the entire book that makes the common thread obvious may not be necessary or easy to achieve after all.

Quotes from The Idiot Brain

“Much of our brain, as much as 65 per cent of it, is associated with vision rather than taste.”

“We still don’t know the purpose of sleep!”

“The amygdala doesn’t do subtlety; it sense something might be amiss and initiates a red alert straight away, a response far faster than the more complex analysis in the cortex could ever hope to be.”

“The primitive human who runs from something that might be a tiger was more likely to survive and reproduce than the one who said, ‘Let’s just wait so we can be sure.’”

“Sadly, the words ‘reliable’ and ‘accurate’ can rarely be applied to the workings on the brain, particularly for memory.”

“Scientific understanding and evidence strongly imply that our sense of self and all that goes with it memory, language, emotion, perception, and so on) is supported by processes in your brain. Everything you are is a feature of your brain.”

“At their most basic levels, any conspiracy or superstition can likely be traced back to someone constructing a meaningful connection between unrelated occurrences.”

“The brain seems to struggle with the idea that something can happen for no discernable reason other than chance.”

Should You Read The Idiot Brain?

Maybe. If you are interested in learning more about the wonderful and stupid brains that rule our lives, this is a good book for you. I also think that this book would be of interest for both people who are just starting to read psychology books and for those who have already read quite a few. It’s an interesting book that is easy to read and it will make you laugh sometimes.

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