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Book Review: Your Brain – The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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The Wizard of Oz always puzzled me as a child. If the scarecrow didn’t have a brain, how was he moving around and talking? How did he even know he was missing his brain? And if that doesn’t make you think, here’s another thing that puzzles me. Let’s take the example of you sitting at your computer reading this review. Obviously you have a brain, but how can you use it properly if you don’t even understand it? 

Well, let’s face it. Even the most intelligent of us fail to completely understand this complex mass of tissue. However, I’d contest that it doesn’t hurt to know the basics, get a step or two above a scarecrow, you know? I highly suggest Your Brain: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald. It explains how the brain operates, describes the physiology of the brain as it relates to topics such as perception and memory, and gives you tips on how to use your brain efficiently. 

Matthew MacDonald has written over twelve books for O’Reilly including instruction manuals for Visual Basic 2005, Excel 2007, and Access 2007. Your Brain: The Missing Manual is his latest book, and is exactly as the title portrays — a comprehensive guide to the human brain.  

Don’t freak out though. Just because it’s a book about something too complicated to understand, doesn’t mean you won’t understand the book. MacDonald’s writing style is perfect for this kind of guide. It remains educational without becoming overly technical or using unexplained jargon. And even though the book covers a broad scope of topics, MacDonald keeps it well organized and easy to follow. The book captures your attention with fun facts and interesting studies that any person could apply to their own understanding of human ability. It has great descriptions of the brain and its interconnected parts, as well as providing full color pictures and diagrams to offer a better explanation of what the author is talking about. 

I really learned a lot from this book, and I think anyone, no matter how interested they are in the subject, could get something out of it. The end of each chapter proceeds to a sort of “tips and tricks” where MacDonald gives advice on how to use your brain, including how to memorize long lists and how to pay better attention. You’d figure in this age of fast food, Google, and TV that we could all use help dealing with our ADD.

This section isn’t unique to this book though. It’s very similar to another O’Reilly publication released in 2004 called Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. But unlike that book, MacDonald provides a wider scope of the brain, its functions, and disorders, making it a more accessible but much shorter read.  

The only downside to Your Brain is the constant reasoning behind a particular brain oddity and how it relates to our ancestors. I guess I’m just more curious about how the brain can be useful to modern man than prehistoric, but either way, the information still became a little repetitive.

Aside from that, Your Brain: The Missing Manual remains an entertaining and informative read. That and I like seeing it on my shelf — my pretentious reason for getting it. However, I’d have to say that, pretentiousness or not, this is a great book, one that could help any human better understand themselves and the world around them. 

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About Janica Unruh