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The Other Side of Normal: How Biology Is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  338 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
In this enthralling work of popular science, respected Harvard psychiatrist Jordan Smoller addresses one of humankind’s most enduring and perplexing questions: What does it mean to be “normal?” In The Other Side of Normal, Smoller explores the biological component of normalcy, revealing the hidden side of our everyday behaviors—why we love what we love and fear what we fea ...more
Hardcover, 390 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by William Morrow
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Anne Jordan-Baker
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Thorough overview of the current science and thinking about the brain and behavior. Asks the great question: what is the purpose of the brain? The answers to that are what define "normal." I loved this for its easy-to-understand explanations of difficult-to-understand science. Also, loved the humor and stories.
Jonathan Karmel
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Historically, psychology has been the study of the abnormal. The thesis of this book is that the time has come to turn this formula on its head: the best way to understand the abnormal is to study the normal.

One insight from the French physician François-Joseph-Victor Broussais around 1800 was that normal is a spectrum of variability. A bell curve has a “normal” distribution. That’s what normal means. There is no sharp distinction between normal and abnormal, although you can talk about standard
Mar 20, 2013 rated it liked it
A decent pop psychology read with a solid premise that is at the heart of the debate of psychology now (particularly with the release of the DSM-V): that we much define abnormal by first defining normal, rather than the other way around. Smoller brings the neuroscience and biology underpinning psychology down to a layperson's level, which is good for those who have a general interest in the topic. For those who are more versed and looking for something deeper, they probably won't find it here.

Jun 02, 2013 is currently reading it
I am literally 2 pages into the book and I think it's pretty good. It has helped me formulate a few questions that I may not have otherwise asked. Like, "How can a person study the brain if that person essentially has to use their brain to do it?"

Also, I like how the prologue was very upfront on how parts of the reading may seem obvious and very "duh!" but in my opinion that shouldn't discount the entire material.

After I read more I think I'll write a more specific review.
Ashley E
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
In The Other Side of Normal, Jordan Smoller manages a remarkable balance between scientific detail and easy comprehension. Smoller brings to light the amazing way our brains are built to function... and how they can go wrong.

I found this book fascinating because it details just how nature and nurture can effect each other and our brains. It's most certainly not an either/or thing. Both are pieces in the detailed puzzle that forms our emotions and personalities. Smoller gives vivid examples and h
Divya Palevski
Mar 21, 2017 rated it liked it
The Other side of Normal was actually a fun read. It was fast paced and interesting. Dr Smoller has a way with words and explains some intricate concepts of neuroscience beautifully. His chapter on Fear - Remember to forget-sets up his argument, to study the normal or range of human behavior that doesn't cause functional dysfunction ,on shaky grounds though, at least for me. He delved too eagerly into psychopharmacology for my interest instead of dwelling on the intricacies of the argument and r ...more
Zhi Ling Tan
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For the first time, I find the biological mechanisms of psychiatric behaviour clearly illuminated. Dr Smoller managed to weave together various aspects - molecular biology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience - to explain how the functioning of the brain can go awry. I had readily dismissed pathologies of the mind as subjective and sometimes even self-indulgent practices, and Dr Smoller was able to salvage some of psychiatry's glories and wonders through this book. I had enjoyed this book very mu ...more
Mills College Library
591.5 S6665 2012
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books ever! Very interesting & well-written. I might have to read it again soon because I'm a little sad to be finished with it.
Jun 04, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Heard author on Diane Rehm show.
Apr 22, 2012 marked it as to-read
I won this book from First Reads. Looks like a good book. Thank you.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was very useful. Knowing people who struggle from mental illness, this helped me understand why these "abnornmalities" happen. I used quotes there because I was surprised how many behaviors were not "abnormal" at all, but extreme responses of the brain's survival systems. I did have to read this book in small doses because it was a little bit dense. Though it was made for people new to pyschology, I will admit it took me a while to understand some parts.
Lars Fimmerstad
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Splendid survey of psychiatry today

As a psychiatry student in the 60s I marvel at how this science has advanced since then. How biology and knowlege about the brain and genetics all have made progress in understanding human nature and nurture is simply stunning. What I miss is perhaps a deeper understanding of how the prenatal environment, in the womb, might influence the devellopement of an individual.
Peter Mcloughlin
Brain and cognitive science on ordinary psychology and its relation to abnormal psychology. Social aspects, emotions, and normal behaviors. Big idea is that much of our behavior can be found on a spectrum or normal curve with abnormal psychology being on the tails of the bell curve.
Toni Aucoin
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
It was not what I thought it would be. Lots of experiments, research........all uninteresting.
Epifania Rita Gallina
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I will have a special spot for this book on my list of favorite psychology/biology books of all time. When I went into this book, I expected to understand the topic because I have read over 20 books similar to this one but I also thought terms would be overly emphasized to make the language sound like pretty prose making it too complex rather than complex yet engaging. However, I found it to be the second. I am an avid neuroscience person which can be the reason why I didn't find any of the neur ...more
Dawn Livingston
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autism
Interesting particularly if you or someone you know is autistic or have anxiety, depression, etc. issues. The author starts with the question, "What is normal?" He says that "Psychiatry in particular has struggled with this issue, often with unsatisfying results." The chapters that follow deal with:

What science is teaching us about its biology

The "formative influence of early experience... the devopment of key mental fuctions in childhood and adulthood including social cognition and empathy"

Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This is not a groundbreaking book, but it ties together a number of recent threads in psychology investigation.

Smoller gives a hat tip to Martin Seligman and "positive psychology" without buying into every bit of it.

He notes that, in the case of something like depression, the modern West's ideas may have influenced the developing world, but with something like schizophrenia ,the cluster of symptoms, whatever the name, is fairly constant in frequency across cultures.

He notes that with borderline
Moon Shine Art Spot ~ Lisa
I found this book extremely informational, educational, and interesting. I was lucky enough to receive this wonderfully researched mental health advanced reader's copy free from Goodreads.

The book discusses the many new techniques used to assist in determining things about mentally ill patients, as well as the difficulties in determining just what "normal" is.

The book touches on vast amounts of current research and many things vital to the human mind's development as well as things that need to
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I feel like I just finished a marathon I didn't particularly want to run. The book was vey enjoyable for me, and was basically a recap of my college education condensed nicely into one little book. I'm not particularly fond of the author- he is friends with "The Tiger Mom" and name drops fairly frequently. What is it with front runners in the psychiatric field? Congratulations, you study abnormal psychology, that doesn't make you God. Anyways, I enjoyed the book, it's basic references and explan ...more
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For anyone interested in human behavior, this is an excellent book. Smoller explores how the interplay between genetics and environment produces beliefs and behaviors that are both "normal" and those that are outside the broad range of what is considered normal. Relying on dozens of research studies as well as results from his own lab at Harvard, Smoller guides the reader into a somewhat esoteric neuroscientific realm that should help us better understand our fears, anxieties, depressions, moods ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This starts with a very good premise that we cannot understand the "normal" by stating that it is the opposite of abnormal. Smoller talks a little bit about the origins of function/dysfunction, order/disorder in psychology. I would have loved to read a few more chapters on that, but this was a book to entertain and not for psychology academics. Not that I am one, but I can keep up with the readings. I found the most interesting and useful message from this book was this: normal mental health, li ...more
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free through First Reads on Good Reads.

This book gives a pretty detailed, though easy to understand, account of what our brains are supposed to do and how they are supposed to function, and the ways it can go wrong.

Smoller discusses the ways nature and nurture affect our brains, ourselves, and one another. He uses great examples and makes it less boring with his sense of humor added in.

I found The Other Side of Normal to be incredibly interesting and an overall good read
Kim Fahey
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you love thinking about how the brain works and why we do what we do like me this is a great read. I also think that Smoller does a good job at making the science necessary to understand the brain easy for those without a science background to understand. Although I do have a science background and a love for everything neuroscience so I can't 100% you'll get the biology part, but if you ignore that and just think about what the brain is doing that potentially causes us to behave the way we d ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it liked it
This book served as a nice update for me, since so much in psychology research and treatment has changed since I had AP Psych more than ten years ago. The writing is good, but waxes more technical than most laypersons' science writing. I hate to admit it, but my attention flagged during the nitty gritty parts. It's sad because this really is an area of interest for me, but in my defense, I was reading it in bed after long days.
Look for extended babbling about this on The Blue Bookcase next week
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a very well written, articulate, and coherent book. It included excerpts from case studies, and touched upon a vast array of subjects, from genetics and neuroscience, to psychiatry and neurology. I'm a science major and so have already touched upon these subjects at school, but it might get a bit esoteric in some parts for someone who hasn't yet learned about these things. Overall a great book, though I would mostly recommend it to people who have some sort of background in the sciences ...more
Oct 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Its a interesting book on why we do what we do. It's another book
on how we are programed is the base for our actions. Free will is an
illusion and every aspect of self seems to depend on what you're wired
for. There are coupe of books that point this out like "The Invisble Gorilla" and "The Believing Brain". This one goes into epegentics and off and on switches in our genome that make us who we are. I will look forward to his next book
Apr 22, 2012 rated it liked it
The general argument that we should "redefine" psychology/psychiatry to start looking for the normal as opposed to the abnormal is cute and nice and all...but the book doesn't manage to actually lay a plan. A nice read though, and since I got this book on the Goodreads First Reads giveaway, the price is right. Right?
Destiny Esper
Apr 23, 2012 rated it liked it
*Disclaimer: I received this book for free as a FirstReads giveaway winner.*

This book is truly fascinating. Smoller (the author) breaks such scientific things down in simplistic ways that make this book enjoyable, rather than textbook-like. Now, I'm fully capable of acting both normal and abnormal. Just kidding.

If you like to think outside of the box, this book is perfect for you.
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The Equity Book G...: The Other Side of Normal 1 6 Jun 18, 2012 03:49PM  
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Jordan Smoller is associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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“Psychopathic individuals have a neurobiologic impairment in the ability to recognize and process fear and sadness in the facial expressions or voices of other people. It's as though they're blind and deaf to the pain of those around them.” 1 likes
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