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January 2016


Your Brain: A User’s Guide


(National Geographic: 2012, 2015)


What are the big take-aways?


The sub-subtitle of this reissue of a popular National Geographic publication is “100 Things You Never Knew.”  Indeed, this glossy and appealing magazine-style book contains 100 very interesting trivia facts about the brain, interspersed throughout five essays on learning, perception, unconsciousness, emotion and aging.  The big take-aways are that the brain is ridiculously complex, and the state of the science of neurobiology is ever-changing; neither is news, but National Geographic’s presentation of the basics is impressive.


Why did I like it?


Your Brain: A User’s Guide is a handsome book with terrific illustrations, true to the publisher’s brand.  The short essays on the focus topics are brilliantly written: I don’t know who National Geographic thinks its audience is for this book, but the writing is both simple and sophisticated.  Another cool feature is that it contains a few little hands-on experiments that are pretty fascinating; my favorite demonstrates a bizarre trick of the brain’s perception of color and orientation of objects in space.  It’s one of those things that, if you allow it to, calls into question everything you think you know about what you think you see.


In what situations would this be useful?


I don’t have a waiting room at my office, but if I did this book would be in it because of its universal design, attractiveness, and how easy it is to dip briefly into and out of for engaging and enlightening information.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


A book worth checking out if you’re specifically looking for connections between brain science and leadership is Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders by Srinivasan S. Pillay (Pearson Education, 2011).


Another simple-yet-sophisticated exploration of similar material to Your Brain’s is Pixar’s recent movie, “Inside Out” (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).  I liked how deftly the movie’s plot illuminates the basics of neuroscience: what memories are; how and why memories are stored or lost; what the connections are between memory, emotion and personality; and the role of the subconscious.


If you’re interested in the neurobiology of mindfulness and its practice, I recommend Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).  Hanson also has a newer book out that I haven’t read yet, entitled Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence (Harmony, 2013), which may have implications for leaders, especially in the realm of confidence.


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