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Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,521 ratings  ·  130 reviews
A renowned cognitive neuroscientist?s fascinating and highly informative account of how the brain acquires reading

How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene provides an accessible account of the brain circuitry of reading and explores what he calls the ?reading paradox?: Our
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published November 12th 2009 by Viking Adult (first published August 30th 2007)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  1,521 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Jan 06, 2010 added it
This book seemed a little forbidding at first, The first chapter was readable enough, but Chapter 2, which is clearly critical to an understanding of the rest of the book, got very hairy very fast. Scads of diagrams of the brains from various angles and a veritable cornucopia of fMRI scans, rounded out by that sad, inevitable procession of case studies whose weirdly specific malfunction* proved essential in nailing the link between a particular brain activity and the location of the region that ...more
Sep 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a really, really fascinating read, and surprisingly easy to grasp considering the technical subject. I actually read it surprisingly fast, and it was definitely the sort of book that provoked a lot of turning to my partner to ask “did you know that…”. It also made me ask a ton of questions of my mother about how I learned to read, why I learned to read late, etc, and honestly had me wondering if I should volunteer for a study on reading — the methods of reading and learning to read that ...more
Lars Guthrie
Aug 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
This joins the go-to books on my shelf for anyone who cares about how we read and how we learn to do it. It's next to Maryanne Wolf's 'Proust and the Squid' and the already-dated 'Understanding Dyslexia' by Sally Shaywitz.

It's definitely denser matter than the other two, though, and taking it in requires effort. There were a couple of things that made the task harder than it needed to be.

Since 'Reading in the Brain' generally maintains a conversational tone and does not talk down to
Ashish Narain
Nov 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Brown
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I previously read Caplan (Harvard Medical School) in his 1996 book on "Language". He discussed the psychology experiments that revealed that the brain contained 8 different dictionaries, organised conceptually into a tree by speech/text, input/output, and whole-word/grapheme_phoneme.
This model formed the basis of theories on dyslexia.
Now Dehaene updates this psychological model into a neuroscience model, based on functional MRI and other experimental techniques, applied to show brain
May 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
There is something wonderfully ironical about this book: It purports to defend from enemies everywhere the act of reading, while doing so in a way that makes even the lustiest reader temporarily hate the written word.

This book is terribly written; its author encapsulates a goodish number of ideas "in a nutshell" and likens three or four sets of ideas to "tip(s) of the iceberg" and feels compelled to finish many nearly unreadable sections of chapters with "in summary." Its largest val
Eric Rasmussen
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reading in the Brain is a very challenging book, but the effort, head-scratching, and re-reading was more than worth it - as an educator, neuro-psychology enthusiast, and appreciator of new and and interesting insights into the ways the people work, this book was one of the more significant texts I've read, ever.

From a content perspective, this book wove well-explained data into profound insight into the ways something specific like reading works, which continually built toward much
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I found it utterly fascinating, and very well written (I kept marveling that the author's first language is not English. If you're a reader, and you want to find out more about how this mysterious and wonderful process works, I highly recommend this book.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
If I knew more about neuroscience I would have loved this, but as it was I had to skip a lot of the dense parts and just read the simple summaries to understand a lot of it.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked the deep scientific approach tackled in the book to prove his concept. However, sometimes it was too much and feels like a collective scientific study and manuscript platform.
Science (Fiction) Comedy Horror and Fantasy Geek/Nerd a.k.a Mario
It's nice how remarkable the few things are that have been learned about the brain so far

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

Brain research, which is in its infancy, can safely be described as a guarantee for future surprises and pioneering discoveries. The work sheds light on the wonder of the operation of the control center, with a particular focus on reading, and unearths impressive facts.
Mar 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Author Dehaene, who has some very impressive credentials, has made an exhaustive exploration of how the human brain reads. What he has concluded is that we ‘recycle’ parts of the brain that were evolved to do other things. Humans have been evolving for several million years, but only reading for a few thousand- a new structure just for reading couldn’t have been created in that time. And reading arose in several geographical areas around the same time- the chances of a special mutation for readi ...more
Diana Sandberg
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Dehaene is somewhat difficult to read; he is discursive and not spectacularly well organized. But it’s generally worth wading through the verbiage for the information. This one is about the nitty-gritty details of brain structure and function as they relate to the skill of reading. Recent advances in brain imaging have given us surprising new insights.

It is indeed astonishing that readers from all cultures almost invariably use precisely the same relatively minute portion of the brai
Sep 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
My guess is that this book will only be of interest to people who care a great deal about brain research; it's a jargon-heavy, very detailed analysis of what happens in the brain when we read -- and why we can read at all. We evolved to get quick fixes on shapes in nature, for our survival. So when we moved to farming and larger communities, away from hunting and gathering, and we needed to keep records, we used the same simple shapes we saw in nature -- circles, triangles, stick figures. Letter ...more
Feb 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Dehaene offers a very technical explanation of what happens in the brain when one reads. He suggests that although there is no specific "reading gene", there appears to be evidence that there are structures or mechanisms that facilitate reading within the brain, features that are recycled in the purpose from what nature had originally intended. He is informed by a good deal of research that shows some universal similarities suggesting that human creativity did not come up with the various alphab ...more
Aug 18, 2012 marked it as to-read
Notes so far:

Generic "he". Ugh. Come on, people, it's the 21st century.

From the intro: "Nothing in our evolution could have prepared us to absorb language through vision." So, is he arguing that sign language is as amazing a thing as reading? Checking the index, he doesn't address sign language anywhere.

Didn't end up having time to finish before it had to go back to the library; I'll give it a try later when I have more time and when I'm willing to put up with
Sophie Ho
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfictions-sci
Absolutely an eye-opener! Dehaene skillfully explained how reading, a mundane and often taken-for-granted activity, is nothing but a miraculous feat that we human are blessed with. Being fluent in reading both Chinese and English, I am especially impressed by the findings that show reading the two seemingly different languages utilizes the exact same neural pathway. A highly informative and interesting read!
anna mae
Jan 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
reading this book was like swimming through a sea of mashed potatoes(in the worst way). I wanted so much to enjoy and learn from it but i found it so incomprehensible(even as someone familiar with a lot of the terminology) that every time i'd pick it up i'd read ten or fifteen pages and end up wondering 'am i ill, or something?' and have to put it down and get something else just to make sure I could still, in fact, read and properly understand english.
Lara Amber
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I highly recommend this book to ANYONE who is teaching children to read or designing curriculum on reading. It would also be excellent for anyone with school aged children who want a better understand on how the human brain works while reading.

I will caution this is a dense book, lots of ideas and studies, and best read in small chunks. The author does assume the reader is college educated with a strong background in science.
Bravo! This is a marvelous book - clearly and elegantly written (not in the author's native language) and on the cutting edge of the neuroscience of reading. I savored it, reading a few pages a day for several months. It is well worth becoming acquainted with this brilliant mind and the exciting ideas (many of which are documentable, thanks to fMRI's and other imaging techniques) about how the brain works.
Pam Skelton
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great detailed and clear explanation of the current state of the neurology of the brain while reading. Clear well-explained illustrations. Includes discussion of learning to read, reading and perceptual issues such as dyslexia, and particularly evolutionary issues.
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
This idea of the reading paradox is interesting, but I still feel like all these books are too focused on pedagogy and dyslexic children vs. what is physically going on in the brain during reading.
Steve Anderson
This is a difficult book, but it has great insights into how humans read!
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic and illuminating read about reading. Highly recommended.
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is turning out to be a startling treasure. Astounding information; and very well-articulated.
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ub
Lots of pictures and diagrams, and sentences starting with "In summary" (all good things). Some fascinating insights, but also sometimes too much brain-anatomy. So I did skip some parts, including Chapter 6 on the dyslexic brain, because I'm less interested in that.

P30 on irregularity of pronunciation in English:?GB Shaw pointed out that "fish" might be spelled ghoti: gh as in enough, o as in women, ti as in lotion.

P46 in adult expert readers, the time to read a word is e
Nancy White
Jul 27, 2019 added it
Shelves: academic
I had to put this book down a few times because it blew my mind so severely. Ideas that I had always assumed to be true about reading and writing are efficiently and effectively debunked in this book - clearly I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew! This is a fascinating exploration into the evolution of reading and writing from a neuroscience perspective, well-supported by high quality evidence throughout, but ultimately it draws conclusions and has implications for reading instruction that ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book held my two loves: science and reading. I haven't been this pumped to read a book in quite a while. I've talked more about this book to anyone who would listen and even shared some of the demos in the book with my sixth graders. Therefore no less than 4 stars would be possible, however I was bogged by the chapters in the middle to end droning symmetry for a bit too long. Rest was fascinating. I wish I could remember the vast theories presented in my personal knowledge base.

The brain i
What a truly amazing read. Clearly written, detailed, yet easy enough to understand and read continouusly. Also devoid of the repetition which is common popular science books originating in usa. The german translation is good and seems to deal in a meaningful way with the language examples.

Mr Dehaene gives a detailed overview on science on reading, focussing on the gray-matter and the primate that carries it. The processes how reading works in the brain, how it's interwoven with lang
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Much of the science detail was over my head but I still gained a great deal. I was tempted to skip the tough chapters but am glad I didn’t for the sake of my work with dyslexics. I share Dehaene’s hope stated in the last Chapter titled The Future of Reading, “My hope is that...research on teaching, psychology, and neuroscience will merge into a single, unified science of reading.”

Big takeaway for teachers: “Neither educators nor psychologists can afford to ignore recent scientific fi
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Psychology: Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene 1 6 Apr 08, 2013 10:37AM  

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