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Mind Games

David Schoonmaker

A VERY SHORT TOUR OF THE MIND: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain. Michael C. Corballis. xi + 106 pp. The Overlook Press, 2013. $17.95.

Many successful authors answer questions we long ago articulated and have wished we could answer. Michael Corballis goes at least a step further: He poses questions we wouldn’t have thought to ask and then answers them with clarity and wit. And what could be more fascinating to a human being than the human brain?

A Very Short Tour of the Mind exemplifies truth in advertising—it is very short, both in overall length and in the duration of each chapter, the longest of which barely makes it to the sixth page. Yet the book is packed with surprises. Did you know, for example, that left-handedness is generally considered by psychologists to be a lack of handedness? Or that the ratio of neocortex (the home of higher-order functions) to overall brain volume in primates is related to social-group size?

Corballis ranges widely within and beyond his subject. He muses about bipedalism and why it may have been adaptive; explores why and how we are so skilled at recognizing faces; and closes with a chapter called “Lies and Bullshit,” in which he wonders why we are so very intolerant of the former but readily accepting of the latter. With his usual self-effacement, he ends with an admission about his own career as psychologist, educator and communicator that may bear on the question.

By way of disclosure, Corballis is no stranger to the pages of American Scientist: He has written three feature articles and a similar number of book reviews for the magazine in the time I’ve been here. It’s also worth noting that I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on one of those pieces. So, yes, I was favorably disposed toward this book. Nonetheless, I liked it so much that I want to be sure you know about it. I found it to be an utter delight—not something to devour straightaway, but rather a pleasure to savor sip by sip.

David Schoonmaker is editor of American Scientist.


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