Beyond the Zonules of Zinn

Isaac Asimov's nonfiction writing on science was famously marked by a seemingly effortless clarity amid complex ideas, a personal passion and experience, and a general infectious glee in the marvels of the cosmos. The same qualities shine through in David Bainbridge's Beyond the Zonules of Zinn. Vibrantly communicating his own sense of wonder at the intricacies of the human brain, the author handily escorts the reader through an anatomical and evolutionary labyrinth that would otherwise be daunting even in a classroom setting. Bainbridge's motto is that a knowledge of structure always has and always must precede an understanding of function. Neuroanatomy from its outset tried to identify the structures of the brain and establish their physical interrelations, without attempting to pinpoint such "higher-order" functions as memory and consciousness. Although today's researchers are making -- pardon the inevitable pun -- headway in such assignments of functionality to structure, Bainbridge focuses mainly on the astonishing "geography" of the human brain. The reader is borne through the varied anterooms, chambers, bridges, and canals of the brain and its outliers as if on an Asimovian "fantastic voyage." The chapters on vision are typical of Bainbridge's ability to parse the intricate machinery of nerves and neurons, lenses and retinas, but perhaps his most endearing trait is the juvenile delight he takes in the various gruesome abnormalities and diseases of the mind. After reading about such aberrations as Ondine's Curse and fetus in fetu, you will bless every minute of normal mental operation you enjoy.-

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.