Kandel is an astute reader and a reflective observer. He has a penchant for thick description and a humanist’s appreciation of the sublime. Much in his study reminds the reader of the 19th-century natural historian, in whom a singular instance in nature could give rise to a grand idea. There is certainly that nostalgic, synthetic voice in his text. Neuroscience comes alive in Kandel’s study through the personal and imaginative ruminations of disordered minds. He finds in the literary and artistic endeavors of psychiatric and neurological patients material illustrations of deeper neuroscientific concepts. Each vignette forms a natural experiment. Each patient becomes a novel performance of nature. At his very best, Kandel recedes into the background and becomes a quiet observer of cultures, of societies, and most especially of minds puzzled at the experience of being a brain in a body. By granting so much agency to patient voices and personal knowledge, Kandel asks his reader to confront the anecdotal and inexplicable and think hard about what it means ... it is so skillfully written that it is easy to forget that his deeper purpose is to use the basic science and clinical medicine to ground his larger, more controversial argument: the notion that the mind can be studied biologically.
Kandel’s well-constructed narrative smoothly blends historical perspective and first-person accounts with explanations of recent experiments ... Kandel is particularly focused on the importance of genetics ... Kandel’s enthusiasm for genetics reflects the current priorities of many psychiatric researchers, but it also drives him to occasional exaggerations ... The sober truth, some of which emerges elsewhere in the book, is that the relationships between genes and most psychiatric diseases are still far from clear ... the new humanism Kandel admirably invites might require...a departure from purely brain-focused views of mental life ... It is misleading to suppose, with Kandel, that 'every activity we engage in, every feeling and thought that gives us our sense of individuality, emanates from our brain.' Nature does not see the brain as a prime mover ... The cultural norms surrounding mental health are also increasingly questioned by 'neurodiversity' advocates. Like Socrates, they argue that people with unusual brains and minds should be celebrated for their traits, rather than overly medicalized and stigmatized. Acknowledging this view in no way strikes at the need to find treatments for truly debilitating mental problems, or at the significance of the groundbreaking research Kandel covers in his excellent book. It does, however, highlight the need to consider our brains in the social, environmental and bodily contexts in which they operate—contexts that help make us who we are, in both sickness and health.
In his new book ... Kandel expertly surveys the great scientific advances in neurological and psychiatric disease, from the role of neurotransmitters in depression and bipolar disorder, to the neuronal anomalies in schizophrenia, to the genetics underlying Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The book is encyclopedic in covering not only the molecular biology, diagnostic techniques and treatment of each disease, but also in tracing the relevant scientific advances through history. Yet what’s notably missing amid all that information, much of which can be found in neurology or psychiatry textbooks, is the tangible human connection or, as the title promises, what all these 'unusual brains tell us about ourselves' ... The treatment of the subject matter, while coherent and systematic, seems emotionally distant from the human-level questions it concerns ... As an introduction to the biological underpinnings of neurological and psychiatric disease, The Disordered Mind is a lucidly written, accessible and fascinating read. Kandel approaches each topic with the same rigor and discipline that he must have exhibited when studying the basis of the gill-withdrawal response in primitive sea slugs. It is that meticulousness that has made him the greatest neuroscientist of our time. But if the goal is to bridge the sciences and the humanities, perhaps the scientific method in isolation falls short.
Kandel's aim is to demonstrate the relationship between cognitive psychology and brain science. After reading the book, you will see that his aim is fulfilled ... This book is a handy reference tool for giving brief resumes of important and common mental disorders. It is recommended for both experts and persons who already have some basic knowledge of the topic.
Clearly and concisely, he leads us through recent findings and hypotheses on various disorders. Some are neurological, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Some have been interpreted as psychiatric, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The modern perspective, he asserts, is that these are ultimately brain disorders ... Kandel is right about the importance of new tools—the methods, instruments and theories now available that might open promising avenues into psychiatric disorders ... At times, he proposes a less-than-convincing reframing ... Bold propositions such as Kandel’s in The Disordered Mind blur the distinction between therapies involving medication or surgery and those that use behavioral and cognitive means. Still, one should appreciate Kandel’s humanistic aims: knowing more about disorders makes us less likely to stigmatize those who think or act differently.
Particularly interesting is the chapter on addiction in which Kandel effectively argues that addiction is a brain disorder, not a moral failing, and should be treated as such. Having a firm grasp on the biology of the brain, especially as it relates to genes and the environment, improves our sense of both individuality and shared humanity ... Kandel's clear and straightforward writing makes this informative scientific exploration accessible and compelling to both medical practitioners, researchers, and general readers interested in how the mysteries of human nature arise from the physical matter of the brain.
Emphasizing advances in the fields of genetics, brain imaging, and animal research, Kandel writes about decision-making, sense of self, emotion, mood, addiction, and gender identity. The most important chapter focuses on the mystery of consciousness (How is it born from the biology and processes of the brain?). Another intriguing chapter looks at the connection between creativity and psychiatric disorders (illustrated with artwork by schizophrenic patients). No doubt neurons will be buzzing as readers contemplate Kandel’s thought-provoking book.
His background as coauthor of the flagship textbook Principles of Neural Science is clear throughout, thanks to the highly accessible presentation, heavy on reader-friendly graphics and explanations of basics. Kandel’s deep compassion for people is also evident, as when he discusses how understanding the biological basis for mental disorders might take them out of the realm of legal culpability. The result of his work is an easily comprehended, meticulous synthesis of current research into the biological grounding of the human mind.
In the end, understanding various states of brain function in varying degrees of health helps address not just the question of consciousness, modern theories of which Kandel addresses in closing, but also the much larger issue of human nature and what it entails. Throughout, the author writes accessibly, though it may help readers to have some background in neuroscience and anatomy. Synaptic pruning, folded proteins, adaptive habits: all fascinating stuff ably interpreted by a master.
The Disordered Mind picks up themes that surfaced in his previous Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain. There, Kandel unpacked the relationship between ego and id, between the consciousness that creates and the subconscious that fuels one’s artistic drives and desire ... The Disordered Mind explores the science of these conditions, specifically the brain activity and thought patterns that give rise to them ... This is exciting territory, for Kandel offers not a documentation of mental illness as disability, but the science of difference.