Shannon Moffett, a medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine, became fascinated with the brain during her anatomy and neurobiology courses. She set off across the country to interview people--scientists, doctors, patients, ethicists, and religious leaders--who devote their careers trying to understand the brain and cognition. With infectious enthusiasm and energy, Moffett brings the reader to meet these dedicated people, their work, their theories and their lives.

The book contains eight chapters and hence eight mini-biographies: 1) neurosurgeon Roberta Glick, 2) cognitive neuroscientist and brain imagist John Gabrieli, 3) Francis Crick (of DNA double helix fame) and Christof Koch--scientists studying consciousness, 4) sleep researcher Robert Stickgold, 5) Judy Castelli who has dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), 6) philosopher Daniel Dennett, 7) neuroethicist Judy Illes, and 8) Zen monk Norman Fischer.

Separating the chapters are "interludes" that map neural and brain development from conception to death. The book has a reference list for each chapter and a complete index, as well as a web resource ( to which the reader is directed for graphics.

The writing is compelling, direct, fresh and insightful. For example, in "Touching the Brain," we follow the exhausting lifestyle of an academic neurosurgeon who works at Cook County Hospital in Chicago as she performs surgery, teaches, attends services at a temple, drives her car, takes care of her family including two young children, rounds on patients, hosts a potluck dinner, and simultaneously discusses her reading, travel and spirituality.

Moffett aptly describes Glick with her "waist-length red hair, ... beaten-metal earrings dangling almost to her shoulders and a saffron batik dress" as someone you'd "expect to find reading storybooks to kindergartners in a public library" (8). In fact, it is Moffett's eye for accessible detail that makes not only the people, but also neuroscience come alive. Artfully woven into the text are lessons on the history of brain research and current understanding (and questions) about the brain, its meaning and function.


Although a number of treatises exist that explicate consciousness and the mind-brain-body connection for the lay person (for example, works by Dennett), this book adds a unique perspective: who are these people working on such issues and what makes them tick? Moffett's educational journey becomes the reader's--it's an entertaining and informative ride.


Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Place Published

Chapel Hill, N.C.



Page Count