Norman Doidge, M.D.
Penguin (Non-Classics)
Published Date
December 18, 2007

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer: 

Paul Graham

Doidge’s book is one of a handful of books that I read in the last couple of years that reignited my interest in neuroscience and neurophysiology.  It is an interest that I first developed when I tackled Kandel and Schwartz’ tome, whilst completing my fellowship thesis.  It sits amongst the company of other excellent books like Wolf’s “Proust and the Squid”, and Deheane’s “The Reading Brain”.  Unlike the latter books which concentrate on reading, Doidge presents research and cases that cover a wide variety of topics that more specifically deal with what is becoming one of the hottest topics of the early 21st Century – neuroplasticity.  From the mind-blowing simplicity of Ramachandran’s mirror box for phantom limbs, to Bach-y-Rita’s amazing inventions that allowed blind people to experience vision through cameras that sent inputs to their skin or tongues, the cases all present an authentic, quietly enthusiastic message about the power of neuroplasticity that keeps the reader enthralled.

Doidge draws on personal clinical experience and interviews with people who are considered “the” names in modern neuroplasticity.  I found this book very easy to read and the stories personally engaging.  It is also heartening to experience a group of clinicians and scientists from outside my own field, who also highly value the knowledge we have to gain from individual cases, as much as we gain from other forms of evidence – Doidge includes a humourous quote of V.S. Ramachandran’s that  emphasizes this very point.

As a vision therapist, many of the examples are a good reminder that the rules governing good vision therapy are grounded in the rules that govern neuroplastic change outside the so-called “critical period”; examples: positive intent, the nerves that fire together wire together, nerves that fire apart wire apart, and so forth.  There are examples akin to the amazing restoration of function that occurs sometimes when optometrists work with patients with brain injury.

What I like best about this book is the wide variety of examples of neuroplastic change that is not limited to brain injury or dyslexia, and many of the treatments used in the examples involved relatively unsophisticated equipment.  The only negative seemed to me the discussion on Merzenich’s work which started to read like an advertorial for Fast For Word. Having said this, Merzenich has obviously added a lot to the understanding of brain plasticity with some impressive research and insight.

Like a great conference, this book offers something to you regardless of your level of understanding or familiarity of the subject.