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

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  7,137 Ratings  ·  398 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. Syn ...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 Riku Sayuj 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 David 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 ligh
Nov 24, 2013 Lightreads 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 disabil ...more
Sep 23, 2012 Catherine 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 presen
Aug 12, 2012 Nicholas 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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Nov 28, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva 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 Martha Love rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, neurology
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 qui
Jan 18, 2011 Chrissy 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
Laurie Graham
Jun 22, 2012 Laurie Graham 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 n
Bob Nichols
Apr 20, 2012 Bob Nichols 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
Jul 21, 2011 Rohini 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 delegati ...more
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
Nov 14, 2011 Andrew 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, inquisit
ვილიანურ რამაჩანდრანის the tell-tale brain (ელეგანტური თარგმანი ვერ მოვნახე, ამიტომ ისევ ინგლისურად დავწერე)არაჩვეულებრივი მოგზაურობაა ადამიანის გონებასა და ცნობიერებაში. ეს არის ნეირომეცნიერის მთავარი კითხვა და ძიების მიმართულება: რას ნიშნავს იყო ადამიანი? სად იქმნება ცნობიერება? პირადად ჩემი სიმპათია მეცნიერების მიმართ ასტრონომიიდან დაიწყო, სწორედ აქ ისმოდა ყველაზე დიდი კითხვები,სად ვცხოვობთ ჩვენ? როგორია ჩვენი კოსმოსური სახლი? როგორია მთელი უნივერსუმი? ეს მართლაც უდიდესი კითხვებია. მაგრამ რატ ...more
May 21, 2012 Ms.pegasus 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
Mar 31, 2011 Angie 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 Marcus 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 speculati
Apr 13, 2011 Kevin 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 fundamenta ...more
Jul 01, 2014 Anita 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
Aug 11, 2014 Nancy 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.
Feb 01, 2011 Miriam marked it as to-read
I just attended a lecture by the author, very interesting.
Bernie Gourley
May 21, 2015 Bernie Gourley 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
Naganathan Mani
Jan 06, 2017 Naganathan Mani rated it really liked it
If you are not in the medical field... It may be a bit overwhelming & difficult to comprehend. But to his credit, Dr Ramachandran has made it as easy as it can be for everyone to understand it. One thing is sure... read the actual book rather than the audio book I listened to... as there is lot of illustrations associated with the written material. His research and concept of mirror neurons, its relation to autism and other human behaviours as well as his speculations based on some calculate ...more
Jun 26, 2013 Rachel 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 cat
Mar 08, 2012 Deb 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 worl
Dec 18, 2015 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the plus side: this is a very readable, digestible, entertaining introduction to neuroscience, with clear explanation of the functions of various brain bits and good diagrams (worth viewing on a decent colour screen if you are reading the ebook) feeding into the author's enthused speculations. It's very speculative, but this is speculation done right, where it is easy to distinguish between accepted science and the author's sometimes wild musings and what-if and doesn-t-this-suggest ideas.
S Prakash
Jun 19, 2014 S Prakash 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.

Marissa Morrison
Jun 25, 2011 Marissa Morrison rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This isn't just a book about the brain. It's also about the scientific process and the joy of discovery. In his preface, Ramachandran explains how axolotls drew him toward science at an early age (this grabbed my attention when I read it, since I'd seen axolotls myself at a museum that morning), and in the epilogue he slams creationists for closing off scientific inquiry. In between, he presents many different aspects of his research, guiding the reader through the scientific process as he follo ...more
Feb 05, 2012 Jafar rated it really liked it
This would have been more novel if I hadn’t read Ramachandran’s other books. He repeats some of his prior works and theories in this book, but in a new light and with a different purpose. The intention here is not just explaining how the brain works, but how it makes us human: language, aesthetics, consciousness, the idea of a self, free will, etc. The introduction to the book is great. He presents a superb case that we’re not just apes, as it has become fashionable to say among the scientists a ...more
Ioannis Savvas
Ο V.S. Ramachandran είναι γνωστός νευροεπιστήμονας με πλούσιο συγγραφικό έργο. Στο τελευταίο του βιβλίο ασχολείται κυρίως με τη φύση της συνείδησης και του «εαυτού». Δίνει ιδιαίτερη έμφαση στου νευρώνες-καθρέφτες (mirror neurons) και στην «εμπάθεια» (empathy), το αίσθημα του «συμπάσχειν», μία έννοια που είναι της μόδας τα τελευταία χρόνια και το σχολιάζει εκτενώς και με αρκετό σκεπτικισμό ο Stephen Pinker στο The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Επίσης προτείνει μια ολοκληρωμένη θεωρία για την εξέλιξ
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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.” 172 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.” 42 likes
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