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Making a Good Brain GreatReview - Making a Good Brain Great
The Amen Clinic Program for Achieving and Sustaining Optimal Mental Performance
by Daniel Amen
Harmony, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Feb 27th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 9)

Making a Good Brain Great is intended to be a practical guide to understanding and optimizing brain functioning.  The author, Daniel G. Amen, is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain imaging expert, as well as the patriarch of the family of Amen Clinics.  Through the medium of this effusively informative book, Amen effectually conveys a profusion of edifying teachings pertaining to brain health.  An overarching precept grasped unyieldingly by Amen is that the brain is changeable; and that a person, exerting effort, may succeed at making a good brain great.

Importantly, Amen believes, further, that psychiatric evaluation should properly dovetail snugly with physical evaluation of the brain itself.  In the strongly held view of Amen, brain SPECT ("single photon emission computed tomography") imaging comprises a powerful part of the panoply of clinical tools available to psychiatrists.  And a pivotal note resounding loudly and unmistakably through the textual edifice is that discerning use of brain imaging should appropriately be a bedrock component of clinical psychiatry.

Amen's unpretentiously and well written book helpfully provides a fairly detailed, and quite instructive, map for those covetous of searching for ways to make a good brain great.  The book's divorce, stylistically, from stifling academic abstruseness imbues it with lay reader friendly readability.  Much credit should be accorded to Amen for craftily composing a very worthwhile vade mecum germane to brain nurturing.

The textual material, structurally, is divided into two parts.  Preceding these parts is an engaging exordium (in the structural form of an "introduction"), in which Amen reveals his longstanding passion for learning how to make a good brain great.  Tethered to the far end of the textual body are additional structural appendages, in the forms of:  an appendix (in which Amen, with fervor, discourses on the clinical value of brain imaging); a glossary (providing brief descriptions of a very modest number of technical words associated with brain science); and a references and further reading structural appendage (providing citations to a considerable multitude of academic references bound to neuroscience).  These citations are likely a very attractive feature for research minded readers of the book.  Not least, the book's structural configuration encompasses also a goodly number of brain images implanted in the textual soil; these images help fructify the substance of the text.

Part One, in a relatively rudimentary way, adumbrates a core set of brain centric "principles".  An understanding of these principles, as expounded by Amen, may be generally helpful with regard to laying a solid foundation in support of making a good brain great.  The thematic emphasis of Chapter One, for example, concerns the principle that one's brain is involved in everything that one does.  The substance of the brain centric principle delineated in Chapter Two is that the brain determines a person's effectiveness in life.  The essence of the principle fleshed out in Chapter Three is that the human brain is the Universe's most complicated organ.  Some of the other "principles" identified in the book's first part are:  particular brain systems are associated with particular behaviors (Chapter Five); imaging the brain is crucial to knowing how to help it (Chapter Seven); and very few persons have perfect brains (Chapter Nine).

The crux of concluding Part Two is to optimize brain health.  Towards that end, this part is replete with practical suggestions focused sharply on the optimization of brain health.  In Chapter Eleven, for instance, Amen instructively proffers an assortment of nutrition related "tips", tied to brain health.  In Chapter Twelve, Amen unabashedly exhorts the reader to engage continually in mental exercise.  The gist of Chapter Thirteen is pithy discussion of the great importance of physical exercise, with respect to making a good brain great.  Amen, in Chapter Seventeen, asserts that music may have healing properties, and advocates enthusiastically the learning of a musical instrument as a means of  enhancing brain functioning.  In Chapter Twenty, Amen artfully weaves together strands of scientific information joining brain health and various supplements.  The rudiments of multifarious brain related problems are etched skillfully, by intellectual craftsperson Amen, in Chapter Twenty One.  Concluding Chapter Twenty Two describes particulars of a program for making a good brain great.  The program obliges the participant to be attentive to:  exercise, supplement use, meditation, new learning, and nutrition.  According to Amen, a dramatic difference should be noticed in fifteen days.

Despite its powerfully protective shield, composed sturdily of an array of intellectually potent attributes, this well constructed book is not impervious to valid criticisms.  Amen extols the clinical virtues of brain imaging technology as an invaluable clinical tool for fathoming psychiatric profundities.  But this arguably polemical view may incite turbulence in the staid waters of mainstream thinking flowing through psychiatry.  Critics may ask, appropriately:  How good is the science in ostensible support of a considerable clinical role for brain imaging in psychiatry?  Critically, it may also be worrisome that Amen oftentimes does not provide a scientific basis for particular brain enhancing suggestions, by reference to specific academic studies.  Especially given the many gaps in knowledge still cratering the intellectually challenging landscape of neuroscience, critics may understandably complain that the book, as written, fails to adequately identify the "hard" science underpinning many of Amen's multitudinous suggestions for enhancing brain functioning.  It is noteworthy also that, whereas the frontiers of neuroscientific research are evolving rather dynamically, Amen shows statically a snapshot of neuroscientific knowledge taken at a particular moment in time.

The refreshing fount of practical focused information and advice cascading from this book, notably including the foray into brain imaging, may, however, help quench the intellectual thirsts of a considerable panorama of prospective readers, enveloping:  psychiatrists, psychologists, neuroscientists, neurologists, pediatricians, family medicine doctors, pharmacologists, and nutritionists.

 

© 2007 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.                         


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