Book Review: We are Our Brains by D. F. Swaab

January 23, 2014 Blog, Book Reviews 0

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: We are Our Brains by D. F. SwaabWe are our Brains by D. F. Swaab
Published by Spiegel & Grau on January 7th 2014
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: NetGalley
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A vivid account of what makes us human.
Based groundbreaking new research, We Are Our Brains is a sweeping biography of the human brain, from infancy to adulthood to old age. Renowned neuroscientist D. F. Swaab takes us on a guided tour of the intricate inner workings that determine our potential, our limitations, and our desires, with each chapter serving as an eye-opening window on a different stage of brain development: the gender differences that develop in the embryonic brain, what goes on in the heads of adolescents, how parenthood permanently changes the brain.

Moving beyond pure biological understanding, Swaab presents a controversial and multilayered ethical argument surrounding the brain. Far from possessing true free will, Swaab argues, we have very little control over our everyday decisions, or who we will become, because our brains predetermine everything about us, long before we are born, from our moral character to our religious leanings to whom we fall in love with. And he challenges many of our prevailing assumptions about what makes us human, decoding the intricate “moral networks” that allow us to experience emotion, revealing maternal instinct to be the result of hormonal changes in the pregnant brain, and exploring the way that religious “imprinting” shapes the brain during childhood. Rife with memorable case studies, We Are Our Brains is already a bestselling international phenomenon. It aims to demystify the chemical and genetic workings of our most mysterious organ, in the process helping us to see who we are through an entirely new lens.

Did you know?
• The father’s brain is affected in pregnancy as well as the mother’s.
• The withdrawal symptoms we experience at the end of a love affair mirror chemical addiction.
• Growing up bilingual reduces the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.
• Parental religion is imprinted on our brains during early development, much as our native language is.


my thoughts doneThis is a seriously intense but magnificent read! There’s so much in here but honestly most of it is pretty easy to understand. There were some terms that I had to look up (yay for reading this on my Kindle!) but other than that it was relatively easy.

“Take the myth that we use only 10 percent of our brains. You might well be forgiven for thinking this in the case of certain people, but I haven’t the faintest idea what prompted this crazy theory”

This is also one of the longest books I’ve read in a while. That said it’s daunting enough by itself but being non-fiction just added to the stress so I took this in smaller doses, reading one or maybe two chapters at a time depending on my ability to understand each chapter!

And while this was easy for the most part, I did feel like there was a lot in here that I haven’t read before. A lot of information about what happens while a child is still in the womb and how that affects their lives later. I didn’t realize, although it makes complete sense, that so much depended on the communication between the mother’s brain and the child’s. But again, after reading it makes total sense.

“When a pregnant woman experiences stress, the brain of a female fetus will become more male and vice versa”

Some of this, however, just didn’t want to stick to my brain! I think I will have to give this another read or two to be able to soak up all of the fabulous information!

Definitely going to read more from D.F. Swaab!


the author


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