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Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  4,945 ratings  ·  70 reviews
Following up his 1996 "The Emotional Brain, " the world-renowned brain expert presents 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, feel, imagine, act, and remember. In 1996 Joseph LeDoux's "The Emotional Brain" presented a revelatory examination of the biol ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published January 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  4,945 ratings  ·  70 reviews

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Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Cutting edge" in the field of applied neurobiology to psychological-emotional development, and the role of synapses in the brain specifically. There is a bunch of Brain-Based Learning (BBL) in the K-12 classrooms, and not all of it is likely good by way of any grounding in scientific data. Still, the idea of "teaching to the brain" has taken hold. I used this as a text when it came co-teaching an advanced Cognition and Learning class with a SPED professor back when I was an "ED prof" myself. Jo ...more
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
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
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
Jimmy Ele
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
A wealth of information about the brain and the way that it communicates. The main focus of the book is the synaptic connections within the brain. The most interesting chapters for me were: "The Most Unaccountable of Machinery", "Building the Brain, "The Emotional Brain Revisited", and "Synaptic Sickness". I thoroughly enjoyed the description of how the brain is built whilst the baby is developing and further on as it grows into an adult. The beginning chapters were essential in order to get an ...more
M. A. Florence
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: neuroscience
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.
Jim Angstadt
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
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.
Ronnie Li
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wouldn't say that this is a book to read "for fun." LeDoux does not do a fantastic job of bequeathing his knowledge and the frontiers of neuroscience research to the layperson. This book gets pretty technical; for example, when he mentions Hebbian plasticity and AMPA/NMDA receptors, the average person without a decent neuroscience foundation will likely get lost and ponder its significance. Nevertheless, because I majored in neuroscience at my university, I was more than well prepared to read ...more
Breyen Hyphen
Hard to get into but that may be because it starts off from the psychology POV before it gets to the real neuroscience, and personally, I find psych a little deadening but I really like neuro. I moved thru it faster after it caught up to relatively present-day research. It presents some interesting revelations and information... this book really made me think. I'd say if the author wants to find a broader audience, the prose could be looser. And this isn't for everyone. It's not graduate level s ...more
Shubhang Goswami
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is riveting. I had the absolute pleasure reading this. It does get quite technical. It is like a protein bar, very dense, hard to chew, takes time to digest but is packed with goodness. It has a lot of information for a pop science book and is a great way to get introduced to the field of neuroscience. This book has been brilliant, there is so much I learned from this book.

The author provides different views on theories and then gives his own opinion on the controversial theories in q
Mr. Monahan
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I really wish this book had been assigned as a supplement to my otherwise bone-dry introductory Bio-psychology/neurology course. One review has noted that LeDoux's style is dry, but I have to say it is far more lively than the other Neuroscientist's prose. A great primer or supplement of the pre-medical or psychology student.
Denis Laesker
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book certainly brings about a lot of insight and information about the brain, mind, and the synapses that make us, well, us. By learning about the underlying mechanisms in which our mind learns and behaves, one can start to understand his, or her, own self. Definitely a re-read after reading some of the supplementary literature.
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Deep Learning and its use of artificial neural networks is so mainstream nowadays. Everybody in Computer Science know and use them in one way or another. However, it's funny how little we know about how its biological counterpart - the biological neural network. The fault is on us. We were too much into Mathematics since A/L that we thought Biology is a lesser science. We were mistaken.

If you are learning or using artificial neural networks and always wondered how exactly the same things are alr
Peter Aronson
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A somewhat difficult but worthwhile book on a fascinating topic.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A bit heavy on the neuro Jargon, not for the casual reader. This book got my an A on my NeuroPsych final :-)
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jake McCrary
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-tech
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
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic, psychology
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
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Superb writing on a difficult and broad subject. In no-way a "light-reading", it takes a lot of focusing to read it. However, this makes the book very scientifically accurate and the ideas and theories - which sometimes are very complex - well explained.

I would recommend this for someone who already has some background knowledge in neurosciences and wants to dive a bit deeper and tackle also the philosophical questions.

For the complete beginner: take something more practical like Buddha's Brain
Aug 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Are we a soul and a body OR are we a product of a set of interconnected neurons in our brain? This book explored the latter idea extensively. The book had an overwhelming amount of information, I literally had to take notes to keep it all in my head. However, the information was very nicely organized and it was recited in a story-telling manner that kept it interesting. It is funny that it takes thousands of humans to study the human brain, and still be a million miles away of understanding how ...more
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