The human brain is said to be the most complex organisation form of mattern in the universe known to man – certainly, to write a “very short introduction” about it that is both accurate and accessible would be no small achievement. This book, however, delivers a far-ranging and insightful overview of the brain on 124 pages. It covers the neuron (nerve cell) as functional unit of the nervous system as well as neuronal molecular physiology, brain evolution, memory, historical aspects of brain studies, methods of brain analysis, functional imaging, and brain-computer interfaces in neurotechnology in an engaging style that does not omit detail for clarity but rather highlights the relevant concepts. Intriguing details are included on the mechanism of memory formation, nerve cell signalling, and the processing of sensory information. The chapters go through different scales of functional organisation, from the nerve cell to communication between brain cells to brain networks and brain evolution. All of this is presented with scientific accuracy. I actually found myself re-reading the entire book.
Probably the most interesting of the lot is the final chapter on the “broken brain”, discussing possible interventions on neurodegenerative disease (like Parkinson’s disease) and nervous system damages after injuries, including neuroprothesis to compensate for lost functions. Discussion of the naturally occuring regeneration in the nervous system is also included, which is restricted to the peripheral nervous system, while in case of damage to the central nervous system (like the spinal cord), nerve cells cannot be reorganised to compensate after injury or trauma.
While brain anatomy is briefly summarised (p. 51-58), more illustrations on the hierarchical organisation of the central nervous system and connections of its parts would have been helpful to the general reader. Though anatomy is not everything about the brain - and the text gives a good account of the brains different functions - such illustrations would be a helpful guiding through the different functional specialisations of the brain areas. In new research projects based on imaging (“connectome”) and simulation (Human Brain project), the importance of neuroanatomy is highlighted to understanding the different brains functions. Nevertheless, this is a very readable and highly rewarding book – certainly an outstanding contribution to the series.