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The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human

(Brain Quest)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  9,030 ratings  ·  493 reviews
V. S. Ramachandran is at the forefront of his field-so much so that Richard Dawkins dubbed him the "Marco Polo of neuroscience." Now, in a major new work, Ramachandran sets his sights on the mystery of human uniqueness. Taking us to the frontiers of neurology, he reveals what baffling and extreme case studies can teach us about normal brain function and how it evolved. ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 17th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2011)
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Riku Sayuj
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Riku by: Rohini
Brilliant book - Informative, entertaining and never too pedantic. Some of the concepts teeter on the edge of wild speculation but is cheerfully admitted to be so by the author.

Am truly lucky to have an autographed copy of this pathbreaking book. :)

Will try to give a longer review with some of the more important points later.

Anatomy IS Destiny!
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book by a first-rate scientist. Ramachandran has personally made some amazing discoveries in the field of neuroscience. His writing is lucid, and his enthusiastic, personable style makes this an informative, as well as a very entertaining book.

Ramachandran's approach is to investigate patients who have had varying degrees and types of brain defects or injuries. These patients acquire abilities or handicaps that Ramachandran interprets and analyzes, in the hope of casting
Nov 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
I've never read Ramachandran in long form before, and I don't think I ever will again. This stuff is right up my tree – popular neurology – but . . . no. I started having a sinking feeling at "Over the years I have worked with hundreds of patients afflicted, though some feel they are blessed, with a great diversity of unusual and curious neurological disorders." Oh really said my eyebrows, because that could either be a careless turn of phrase, or a blunt dismissal of the social model of ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
I don't really know all that much about neuroscience or the field in general, so please take this review with a grain of salt.

I have to say that I was pretty disappointed by The Tell-Tale Brain, which billed itself to be an overview tour of the brain and how it is used to delineate our sense of self. This is primarily achieved by examining brain-based maladies with the thinking that really outlandish and odd neurological conditions can highlight what different parts of the brain are responsible
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant books as expected from the prestigious reviews seen on its cover. It's a book about various aspects of human brain functions, explained in lay language, but without compromising the quality of the information.

A case study illustrates the issue at the start of each chapter, then the chapter goes into explaining what is known about the issue - but the author is a researcher and a clinician and this book goes far beyond just describing the state of the art. Many new hypotheses are
Cassandra Kay Silva
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have to emotionally review this book and then write a response to another reviewer. AMAZING! So fun, so many good facts and brain candy. I love how out of so many things that we consider "disorders" we can piece together ourselves in our many arrayed fashion and find similarities and Synesthesia? What who ever heard of people responding to number-color categories in the fashion fabulous! So many interesting and intriguing case studies. Our mind is so variable and so fragile, we are all humble ...more
Martha Love
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neurology, psychology
Ramachandran explores through fascinating case story telling and research data the mysteries of the human brain. His examples of brain memory are an eye opener and give a new perspective on how we view the dynamics of consciousness and health issues related to brain defects and injuries.

I am most grateful after reading his book to finally understand why people feel pain in their stomach first when they have appendicitis (just one of those mysteries in life I always wondered about). Although
Laurie Graham
Jun 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book repeats a lot of stuff that's in Phantoms in the Brain so I regard it as a rip-off. Read one or the other but you don't need to read both. I also found the way Ramachandran's politics and his antipathy to religion intrude into his neuroscience quite obnoxious. He seems to be winking at the reader and saying 'you and me, we're Democrats, right? We're smarter and saner than guys like Dick Cheney.'

This kind of thing is insulting to people who've ponied up 15 dollars for his book but may
Jan 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: neuroscience novices
I deeply respect Ramachandran and I believe his unique "Holmesian" approach to research is an invaluable benefit to a field that risks moving at a snail's pace, possibly backwards, in it's quest to functionally image everything to death. So many of his far flung hunches have proven correct, and many of his random ideas have fuelled entire directions in research. I absolutely admire him.

That being said, I was unimpressed with this book. It felt disjointed and repetitive, swinging wildly from one
Aravind P
Mirror neurons are simply fascinating. Going 4000 years back, closeness of all the early inventions like the invention of wheel, fire, self-awareness, civilization etc had always baffled the scientific world as to what made them wait for 3000 years to make the first civilization or discovery of mind and gods, in spite of having the same brain formation. What the recent studies have indicated is that at that point of time something evolved in brain which didn’t exist for other animals, something ...more
Bob Nichols
Apr 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ramachandran's description of the physical operation of the brain and its various maladies is probably all good stuff, but his cheerleading for human separateness and his writing about the conscious brain as if that were "the" brain gets in the way with what could be a good book.

The author's theme is human uniqueness. As all species are unique, Ramachandran is really talking about human exceptionalism in life's grand scheme. Humans are special in ways that other life forms are not. He does this
Nov 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I read Dr. Ramachandran's previous book, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, as an undergraduate in an artificial intelligence class. The book was a complete paradigm shift in my worldview. It was the first time I'd heard anyone explain with such clarity all that modern neuroscience had uncovered and aspired to learn.

Now a decade later, I was intrigued to see how far Ramachandran had progressed. In The Tell-Tale Brain, I was happy to find that his passionate,
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Tell-Tale Brain: a story that leaves nothing unimagined yet a lot to comprehend about this enigmatic 3-pound jelly residing within us. This is the second book of an Indian author that I cherished reading in past few months. The author takes you on a roller coaster ride in trying to unravel the mysteries of the mind, the last chapter being a peep hole into countless maladies that one can encounter with it. A must-read for all those intrigued by the powers of the brain and its careful ...more
May 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in how the human mind works; anyone contemplating a science career
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: Kevin's list on Goodreads
I was prepared to dislike this book. Ramachandran goes to great length to emphacize the uniqueness that separates humans from animals – an argument often misappropriated by those who countenance the inhumane treatment of animals. He also seeks explanations in evolutionary biology. I tend to associate this with the popular oversimplification that we perceive symmetrical faces as attractive because our brains see symmetry as a marker for healthiness and therefore a better gene pool for offspring. ...more
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
I loved 'Phantoms in the Brain' and was therefore eager to read this, but found it hit and miss. Some parts were really interesting like the chapters about aesthetics, language and the various case studies, but a lot of it was repeating stories and theories from his first book. I also found his writing to be too self-aggrandising-especially in the latter half of the book. His opinions seem to take over the book with no concrete basis and i found myself disagreeing with some of his 'theories' and ...more
Feb 01, 2011 marked it as to-read
I just attended a lecture by the author, very interesting.
Essam Munir
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neuroscience
I've been introduced to the field of neurology/neuroscience by Ramachandran and his amazing cases.
This book summarizes what Ramachadran has done till now and his great innovative way of thinking.
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In The Tell-Tale Brain, V. S. Ramachandran addresses the question of what makes human beings different from all other animals. Of course, the culprit is the brain. Thinking, beating, beating…whoops, that’s Poe.

The author is at the forefront of neuroscience; the book describes the current state of the art, which is not as far advanced as some other sciences. In the epilogue, he compares it to the stage of chemistry in the nineteenth century, “discovering the basic elements, grouping them into
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
After seeing him speak on a TED talk, I was curious to read his latest book. He's made his complicated field accessible and overall I found it entertaining and thought provoking. As he states, neurology is a field that's rapidly changing, we learn more each day, and what he presents here is a work in progress and certainly not the final word. But as neurology can explain questions that have long perplexed us, it seems well worth it to learn from an expert how much more we've already been able to ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-science
There's a ton here. The first half of the book covers a lot that's pretty well discussed elsewhere, but in the second half, Ramachandran just explodes into a huge fireball of ideas that are expansive not only in their reach but are also impressive in their novelty and creativity. You get the feeling that the only thing keeping him back is time. It's definitely not a lack of important questions and well-designed experiments.

I especially liked his discussion of art and aesthetics and his
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another stunning science-for-you book, this time about neurology, the study of how the brain works. Author starts off with a promising premise: he will explain how we are not merely descended from the apes, but something more. Our brains have evolved to much higher levels of complexity and abstraction, and he recites the well-known (to science) experiments to demonstrate just exactly what is going on in your brain today, and then suggests why we have developed this way. He gets to the ...more
Aug 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, health
An interesting book that might well be 5 stars if I hadn't recently read Ramachandran's earlier book, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Dr. Ramachandran recycles a number of themes and examples from that book. He does add some interesting speculations on what makes art, especially Indian art, appealing so well worth reading even if you have read his earlier works.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mindblowing book. It talks about so many interesting brain disorders, explores the evolution of language, vision, autism, the concept of beauty, how Human beings are social, and the concept of 'self awareness'. It feels like the most exciting area of research at present (probably even more than AI).
Excellent book.

If you are interested in learning some basic concepts in Neuroscience, this is the book for you. Rama explains them mainly through great clinical cases. A good way to get into the field and start learning what Neuroscience can and cannot do (for now).
Kate Fulford
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent science book. The author beautifully straddles the neuroscientist & storyteller roles with a rare skill of making complex material easy to understand & compelling, leaving you much richer for the experience.
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heard about V.S. Ramachandran through watching his stuff on PBS. His speaking and writing are both very engaging!
Bernie Gourley
May 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people amazed by the brain
A brain injury patient simultaneously becomes demented and develops a previously unwitnessed artistic talent. Another patient’s brain lights up identically when seeing another person being poked as it does when he, himself, is prodded. An amputee brushed on a specific area of the cheek has a sensation in a specific area of the lost limb—i.e. phantom limb sensations can be mapped to points on the face. A stroke victim develops “metaphor blindness,” and suddenly “the 800 pound gorilla” becomes an ...more
Marcelo Bahia
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cognitive
I couldn't wait further to get more of this. When I love a book as much as I loved Phantoms In The Brain and realize the author has other ones on the same subject, I usually let the dust settle before reading them. In this case I couldn't: after reading an investing book for some variety, I picked up The Tell-Tale Brain immediately.

I'm glad I did. While Phantoms In The Brain was published in 1998 and had a lot of untested hypotheses throughout the text, The Tell-Tale Brain is a 2011 book
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
*This is your brain on evolution*

In _The Tell-Tale Brain_, V.S. Ramachandran impressively tells the tale of the evolution of the human brain. In his own words:
"This book is my modest contribution to the grand attempt to crack the code of the human brain, with its myriad connections and modules that make it infinitely more enigmatic that any Enigma machine." (p. xv)

In his attempt to illuminate the brain-mind-body connection, he tackles such mind-boggling questions as:
*How do we perceive the
S Prakash
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Its one of the most seminal books Ive read in recent times. Apart from being extremely informative in unfolding the mystries of the Brain, its also easy on some one like me who is from a non medical background. Ive never come across a non fiction work that too on science as exciting as a hard core thriller. Ramchandran can surely try his hand at creative writing, as his propensity for humour, apt metaphors and lucid style makes one wonder if had also majored in literaure or craetive writing.

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Science and Inquiry: January 2013 - The Tell Tale Brain 11 119 Feb 12, 2013 04:05PM  

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Vilayanur S. "Rama" Ramachandran is a neurologist best known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and psychophysics. He is currently the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Professor in the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


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“How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and change brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate- your brain- that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, it the greatest mystery of all.” 210 likes
“Indeed, the line between perceiving and hallucinating is not as crisp as we like to think. In a sense, when we look at the world, we are hallucinating all the time. One could almost regard perception as the act of choosing the one hallucination that best fits the incoming data.” 53 likes
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