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.-

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.