Top critical review
Trying Too Hard to Be Simple and Amusing
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2016
The authors make it clear in the preface that this text is intended for a one-semester undergraduate course on the subject of cognitive neuroscience. The difference in writing style and language between this text and Fundamental Neuroscience is immediately evident, with this text adopting a simpler, less elevated style. It is by no means a "dumbed down" book given the subject matter, but the difference in style is noteworthy.
In the earlier sections of the text, the authors adopted a style of familiarity with the reader that I thought was unsuitable, but fortunately, as the text progressed, these intrusions of authorial attempts at humor became mercifully less frequent. Still, the book could have used a more strict editorial hand. Too many sentences contained structures such as "Foo at Bar University (2001) showed that ..." This particular structure was used so frequently and so unnecessarily that it became tedious.
Fundamental Neuroscience was guilty of the overuse of TLAs -- three-letter acronyms. Worse yet, the TLA would be introduced and defined *once* and then used throughout the remainder of the book. Cognitive Neuroscience also makes extensive use of TLAs, but at least here the TLAs would be expanded with its first use in each chapter, making it unnecessary for me to go digging back through the text to find the first instance of the TLA as I had to do with Fundamental Neuroscience.
In general, the readability of this text is praiseworthy. It devotes approximately 650 pages to the material covered in 200 pages of Fundamental Neuroscience. This allowed for a more thorough discussion of the various activities that make up cognition, as well as cover a greater number of components of cognition (Fundamental Neuroscience touched on only a few). I now have a greater and more complete appreciation for what falls within the domain of cognition. Before reading these two textbooks, my conception of cognition was limited to consciousness, but I now see that it is a much broader topic than I had first believed.
The text is profusely illustrated, but I think this is its greatest weakness. The diagrams were little more than graphical illustrations of what was stated in the text itself, adding very little to understanding of the topic being being discussed. The illustrations and graphics of Fundamental Neuroscience are superior in that they not only explained what was written in the text, but they also went further and actually amplified and expanded upon the textual explanations. It seemed that the illustrations in Cognitive Neuroscience were for those who had a primarily visual learning style. The exceptions are the numerous graphics produced by fMRI, PET and other imaging technologies; these images helped localize and visualize the anatomical areas being discussed in the text. Little by little, I'm learning neuroanatomy!
Unlike the case of Fundamental Neuroscience, prior knowledge of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, and anatomy and physiology are not prerequisites for appreciating Cognitive Neuroscience. Although I learned a great deal from this book, it was a struggle to maintain my attention. Part of this was due to the simplified style and language. I probably would have benefitted more from a graduate level textbook on cognitive neuroscience, and I may seek one out after I have read a few other neuroscience books on my bedside table waiting to be read. I enjoy being challenged, and this text did not challenge me in the way I had hoped. Surely there's a happy medium between the minutiae of Fundamental Neuroscience and the simplifications of Cognitive Neuroscience.
There is a small amount of repetition between the two textbooks, but this is a positive in my view. Fundamental Neuroscience was at times overwhelming, but Cognitive Neuroscience helped me consolidate these topics so that they became more ingrained in my mind. Cognitive Neuroscience is more overtly designed as a textbook, with "Take-home Messages" emphasizing the highlights of segments of each chapter, as well as a summary, list of key terms and thought questions at the conclusion of each chapter. In addition, a glossary is appended at the end of the text.
I particularly liked how consciousness was handled. I had complained that the chapter on consciousness was the weakest chapter in Fundamental Neuroscience. I had hoped Cognitive Neuroscience would give me more on this topic, which it did, but only a little. I now understand there is so little that can be said on this topic, especially from the perspective of a neuroscientist. The bulk of the chapter was taken up with a fascinating discussion of the age-old debate between determinism and free will. The authors did a skillful job of blending this philosophical discussion into a scientific textbook. The chapter on executive functioning was particularly strong as well.
Cognitive Neuroscience receives only three stars because I gave four stars to Fundamental Neuroscience, and I don't think the former text is quite as good as the latter one. While I thought Fundamental Neuroscience was an excellent text, it had flaws which kept me from giving it five stars. I'm still looking for that five star neuroscience book!