Brain Works

Word Wednesday: ‘How the Brain Works.”

Books Columns Reviews Word Wednesday

Brain Works

This Week’s Word Is “Brain.”

Ever wondered how the brain works? Ever wondered how you wondered that? Then you’ll definitely be wanting to check out How the Brain Works. 

What is How the Brain Works?

It’s a visual exploration of the amazing entity that is the human brain. It examines how it works, what is happening when it does, and how exactly does your brain make you, “you?”

We’re back to a DK book this week, and one of their infographic style titles. There are no photos here, just bold-colored diagrams, with exciting shapes, flowcharts, and text-bubbles. How the Brain Works is reminiscent of DK’s “The ‘xxxxx’ Book” series, such as The Feminism Book that I reviewed this time last year.

How the Brain Works contains what I consider to be quite complex biology. You will find words here like astrocyte, oligodendrocyte, and microglia, making it suitable mostly for adults or older students who are particularly interested in the make-up of the brain.

Brain Works


How the Brain Works is a 225-page hardback broken down into several color-coded sections:

The Physical Brain.

The basics of brain anatomy. What is a brain made of? What does it look like? What is its function within the human body? What chemicals are in the brain and how do nerve signals work?

The physical brain section then goes on to look at different regions of the brain such as the cortex, the brain nuclei, and the cerebellum and describes them in a significant amount of detail. Want to know how the limbic system works? It’s in here. From there, the book looks at how we can monitor the brain, how it develops through a human life and how we can try to keep our brain healthier as we grow older. (The teenager section touches on some of the works described in the excellent Inventing Ourselves.)

After that, we take a look at brain genetics, male, female and non-binary brains, and concepts such as nature v nurture.

Brain Functions and the Senses.

Section 2 looks out what our brain does for us. Of the five senses, sight is given the most page-time, with hearing next and smell, taste, and touch following after. More than half the chapter, however, is given over to other matters, such as proprioception, feeling pain, and hunger and thirst. It also looks at how our brain keeps all our bodily functions working through the regulatory system and neuroendocrine system, as well as examining how our brain makes us move.


What are we without the ability to communicate with others? This section examines emotions, what this means for us as humans, and how we communicate our emotions whether it be by speech, touch, or facial expression. It also looks at the action on the brain as we learn languages and the complex information processing involved in holding a simple conversation.

Memory, Learning, and Thinking.

If all that wasn’t complicated enough, the brain also handles our memories, the things that make us, “us:” Our memories. This section looks at how memories are formed, stored, and recalled before looking at why we forget and the process of recalling our memories. How memory works is, of course, linked to how we think and learn. This section closes out with a look at intelligence, how to measure it, and how creativity works.

Consciousness and the Self.

In this section, things start to get deep! Again, we can only marvel about the multi-functional nature of the brain, as we look at consciousness, attention, and the concept of free-will.

The Brain of the Future.

A.I. and artificial consciousness. The possibility of enhanced sensory detectors. This chapter looks a little like science fiction. In a sense it is, but a lot of what is contained in this section is on the cusp of becoming reality. It’s a fascinating look at where our brains might be going. This section also looks at the possibility of computers ruling the world and the passing of the singularity.


This final short section talks about potential brain disorders, from the lowly headache to complicated problems like Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s.

The book contains no glossary but there is a comprehensive index.

Why Read How The Brain Works?

The beauty of this book is that by showcasing the brain, it builds up a picture, layer by layer, of how humans work. It’s fascinating from first page to last. The depth of information is astounding. There is an awful lot packed into these 220+ pages. As we’ve come to expect from DK book, the pages are well laid out; they’re designed to hold your attention and they do so well. The book’s illustrations draw the reader in and help explain a host of complicated concepts. The diagrams are backed up by readable, focused, text that explains its topic in impressive detail.

If the book has a drawback, is that it is quite a technical read. The information is fascinating but it is, by its nature, less accessible than some of the knowledge available in other DK books. Having said that, if you’re interested in the subject and don’t mind being introduced to technical terms, this is an invaluable way to learn about many facets of the brain.

Whilst it is one of the more technical books from DK I have read, it is also undoubtedly one of the most impressive.

In order to write this review I have, so far, only scratched the surface of its content. Reading this book, I can learn about the physical attributes of the brain, but also how best to look after it, how emotions work, and how best to help manage them in both myself and my children. It can help me understand how to better communicate with somebody when I’m struggling to get myself understood. It can educate and inform about how about mental health issues and other problems with cognitive function. How the Brain Works is a testament to the amazing nature of the brain and the wealth of investigation undertaken to help understand it better.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of How the Brain Works, you can do so, here in the US and here, in the UK.

If you enjoyed this review, you can check out further Word Wednesday reviews, here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review. 

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