Nick's Reviews > The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science

The Other Brain by R. Douglas Fields
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's review
Oct 06, 2011

really liked it

If you're interested in learning about how your brain is eventually going to destroy your life, look no further than this book. It's jam-packed with startling insights on how glial cells, not neurons, are potentially the true string-pullers behind the brain's fantastic functionality, and also the ways it goes wrong---for example, by the age of 80, 50% of people will develop Alzheimer's, and glia, long overlooked by neuroscientists because they don't communicate electrically like neurons, are to blame.

The stars of this book are astrocytes (who act as the battery for the brain, among other things), microglia (emphasis on 2nd syllable, they are the brain's immune system), oligodendrocytes (who form myelin, an utterly essential partner to neurons, and the element whose failure leads directly to such problems as multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and alzheimer's), and Schwann cells (who do the myelin job for the peripheral nervous system). If it seems like it'd take a while to keep all those unique cells straight, you're right, and the uphill battle with terminology is a definite need-to-know admonition with this book. R. Douglas Fields isn't an armchair brain scientist, but is in fact a leading researcher in the glial field, and that is evidenced throughout by the depth and range of his exploration, even if it at times can leave lay readers in the cold.

Ultimately, this book is a bounty for those who really really want to know the brain better, and for those who want to understand the true story behind what can go wrong in the brain. If you don't have the stomach for hardcore learning, though, you may be better off leaving this one on the shelf.
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