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Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
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Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  2,422 ratings  ·  50 reviews
In 1996 Joseph LeDoux's The Emotional Brain presented a revelatory examination of the biological bases of our emotions and memories. Now, the world-renowned expert on the brain has produced with a groundbreaking work that tells a more profound story: how the little spaces between the neurons—the brain's synapses—are the channels through which we think, act, imagine, feel, ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published January 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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In simple terms, this book by neuroscientist LeDoux states that we are who we are because of how our brains are connected. Circuitry is more important than the theory of "chemical/neurotransmitter balance" Although LeDoux points to the importance of neurotransmitters in modulating synaptic transmission, he thinks that the overall connectivity of circuits is more important. At least, that's what I got from the book.

I have to admit to skimming through some parts that were a little above my head, b
Aug 18, 2009 Greg rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the brain and the self, and who is not afraid of neuroscience
Shelves: mind-and-brain
I'm sometimes told that the popular science books I read don't do an adequate job of relaying the true scientific underbelly of the subject being talked about. That everything is being dumbed down and simplified to reach a wider audience and keep things interesting. While there are certainly elements of truth in that philosophy, I think that's being unfair to many of books that really do a fantastic job of introducing people to these concepts without forcing them to be an expert. I say all that ...more
Mar 30, 2008 Virginia rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: neuroscience geeks
Shelves: psychology
I would put this book into the category of "interesting, but not fun to read." Why? Because I'm interested in all that cool new neuroscience research, but I really had to force myself through some of this. It is very technical, and although it has the appearance of being accessible to the layperson, it truly is not. I have a little background in brain physiology but still found myself having to reread paragraphs and passages to clarify what LeDoux was talking about. The diagrams didn't seem to h ...more
A wildly educational popular-ISH science book for those somewhere between novice and veteran in the field of neuroscience (basic understanding of psychology and chemistry/biology recommended). LeDoux adeptly and thoroughly covers basics of neuroscience and brain anatomy before exploring both the extremely micro synaptic level and the fairly macro applications to theories of consciousness and self-identity. While he is noticeably stronger in the rigorous scientific aspects of the topic, the broad ...more
An enormous snooze-fest. My dissertation research is essentially about "what makes us who we are" so I was really looking forward to reading this book. LeDoux left whole bodies of research regarding early life experience and how it influences later emotionality and the brain completely untapped. It was more like a textbook with related chapters but nothing that connected it all together into a coherent view-point. Super disappointing.
LeDoux has a winner again

Joseph LeDoux has written an exciting book that captures the current state of research in neuroscience. He makes life easy for the lay reader by thoroughly covering not only his own research and theory but that of most other points of view both contemporary and historical thus helping to place his work in a context that gives the reader the feeling that he is reading something on the cutting edge. He is so thorough that one almost thinks that he gives a little too much t
Joseph LeDoux is an active researcher in the areas of amygdala plasticity, fear conditioning and anatomy. His research demonstrated that the connectivity in the lateral amygdala plays a key role in fear conditioning. In this book the author takes an in-depth look at neuroscience staring from it's humble beginnings of the dualist theories of Descartes mixed in with the empirical work of Cajal and Golgi. From there the book builds-up to present day research on synaptic plasticity both from a behav ...more
David Miller
I'm not afraid to say that parts of this book were very complicated. In some of the middle chapters, all I could really comprehend was that there sure was a lot of advanced chemistry going on between brain cells. Chemistry was never my best subject.

But the book's central point is very well presented: everything about ourselves is a consequence of how our brains are put together, and how our brains are put together is a consequence of the genes we start with and the fine details of our environmen
It was overall a good book, but it didn't wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be. In my opinion the author suffers from the same problem that most hard core scientists who try to write a pop-science book:an overuse of technical language and the assumption that the reader has the basic knowledge to understand what is being discussed. I'm not implying that the authors do this in a conscious manner, but since they're too immersed in they fields is perfectly normal that (even though they try ...more
LeDoux may be a hard-nosed scientist, but he is a great guide to understanding the brain as an integrated system. Having little previous exposure to neurobiology I found it necessary to take some notes (okay, copious notes) while reading for some things to "stick", but it was well worth it. He outlines the ways that brain plasticity functions at the level of individual neurons and synapses, which was really eye-opening. I never considered how this could actually work (just a vague notion of neur ...more
Synaptic Self was a perfectly challenging read. A scientific background was all but necessary, however little was needed in the areas of biology, chemistry, or neurology. LeDoux is probably the best technical writer I have come across.

The book has definitely armed me with a significantly stronger knowledge of how the brain works, from the level of synapses all the way to higher level regions of the brain. LeDoux does an excellent job of building on layers of structural abstractions as the book
Steve Woods
For me this was an amazing book. It was a hard slog at times as I don't have a background in Biology, science or medicine but it became easier as I became familiar with the language. This book makes the impossible understandable. The whole idea of the complexity of the human mind has always been daunting to me but this book provided me with a very valuable key expressed as simply as it copuld be for the uninitiated. For me its real value lay in its explanation of the formation of the sense of se ...more
The brain is an absolutely incredible thing...
So far, the most interesting (and new, to me) part is the section regarding what neuroscience knows about emotional responses in the brain directly effecting memory, regardless of the consciousness of the stimuli. The brain's "subconscious" (read: underlying hard-wired programming) really is running the show... most of the time... like it or not. There's also a cool section about "love" by studying pair-bonding in prairie voles, which are one of the
Iva D
Awesome book!! It presents a great introduction into how the brain works - from the basic mechanics to synaptic transmission, and how our brains are formed from birth, to exploring the complexities of memory, to mental diseases. The explanations in the book are very well written, and do not assume any prior acquaintance with neuroscience concepts.
Melanie Florence
Basically, I was hoping for something a bit lighter. And I was disappointed to read about all the testing on animals.
I like reading about science and the brain but this book was difficult to slog through. It got technical quickly with chemicals and pathways given throughout the book. I learned a lot but was very discouraged that neuroscience studies involve conducting research on animals. The author often referenced how one result was found after putting lesions in mice brains or a drug was fou
Jake McCrary
This book gives good explanations to the reader who may not be incredibly (or at all) experienced with the brain and how it works. I found the science to be well explained. I do question how much I will retain since much of the language used and names of various regions were new to me and without reinforcement am guessing will be lost.

A good book to read if you aren't afraid of delving into areas of science with which you are probably not familiar. I left this book with a greater insight as to h
Lorenzo Bean
At times overly technical, even for one with a science background. With that said, explanations are coherent and often accompanied by visual representations. Overall this book did a wonderful job in fundamentally describing the brain from biochemistry to mental processing. Also discussed is how our emotional systems emerge and affect the brain and body, the influence of explicit thinking and its regulation by, or regulation of, our unconscious self, and ultimately how all of this ties together t ...more
this book is fantastic. it was esp. useful for me because in it LeDoux demonstrates that social constructivism is not incompatible with scientific accounts of the brain/mind. in fact, he notes, they are compatible in deeply important ways due to the brain's property of plasticity. this book has some sections that were a bit inaccessible to me (as i don't know all the brain regions and what they are responsible for). however, it was clear enough that even without a lot of brain anatomy knowledge ...more
A fascinating account of what we know about the brain now. The research has us on the brink of many new insights into communications, empathy, and humans as a social species. LeDoux is very good at presenting the current state of research and helping the reader thread her way through the conflicting ideas and theories. For some readers, this book will be too heavy on the synapses, but if you're interested in the brain, check out Synaptic Self.
Justin Meseraull
This book is a little more on the scientific side than your average pop psych book, but that is precisely what I liked about it. Rather than examining the role of the brain from the top down, LeDoux gives us a very detailed explanation of how synaptic connections make us who we are from the bottom up and the top down. It's an informative read for anyone interested how the workings of the brain develop and define personality.
LeDoux is an academic neurobiologist and clearly knows his stuff. His work on the wiring and role of the amygdola lays the basis for his ideas, but this is a strong base. To analyze the way the brain creates consciousness and a self is obviously complex, and presently not explicable. We need to begin with simple systems that we have a hope of mastering, and this book fills the bill for us reductionists.
LeDoux may be one of the finest and most interesting authors on the workings of the brain and the implications for consciousness of synaptic function.
I applaud his open-minded and flexible approach to all the complex workings of mind and brain, and recommend this book highly to anyone who is studying the brain, the mind, or consciousness.
Greg Collver
I enjoyed the book. The first chapter and last chapter were best. I liked his detailed explanations of the mechanics of the brain's various subsystems. Some of the reports of historical psychological experiments were boring and it was not clear to me how they helped build to his final point in those sections.
Fascinating info but only the last chapter (and bits of pieces here and there in the earlier parts) are really applicable to the title of the book. As much as I love learning the nuts & bolts of how the brain works it wasn't my first goal in reading the book.
Jim Angstadt
This book introduces the idea that we, meaning our memory,
is stored in the strength of our synaptic connections.
The author is too verbose to suit me, but that may just
reflect my previous readings.
Bailed half-way through.
As a neuroscience novice, I found this book to be a bit challenging at moments but overall a very very good read. It reads like an exciting story while covering lots of basics and background of the neuroscience of memory and emotion.
Alissa Thorne
A neurobiological overview of the self: cognition, motivation and emotion. For me, this book was the ideal balance between accessibility and substantial technical detail. Prefect for the advanced layman fascinated by neuroscience.
Jennifer Wang
Maybe a layman can learn something from this book, but for someone who works in the field, this book is very preachy. It spins magical tales of how the mind works based on a handful of facts. LeDoux's book's as bad as his band.
May 27, 2009 Emily marked it as to-read
It doesn't seem like I'll ever finish this book. It's like reading a 300 plus page scientific paper. However, it is interesting, I do want to finish it, and I'm already halfway through. So we'll see what happens.
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