Book Review: Brain Architecture

The featured book is ‘Brain Architecture’ by Larry Swanson who is a Professor of Biological Sciences. As the title suggests, Swanson sets out to explain the underlying architecture of the brain. While a number of areas are covered, the predominant medium for explaining the architecture in the book is through neuroanatomy with some embryology and comparative anatomy featured as well.

Swanson begins by looking at sponges and jellyfish before moving onto vertebrates. He examines the increasing complexity of the sensory and effector mechanisms in sponges and the simple nervous system of the jellyfish as well as the more complex nervous system of the bilaterally symmetrical flatworm.

The book is densely filled with information and along the way Swanson adds a historical dimension to the complex topics being discussed pointing out important historical figures and pausing along the way to discuss historical events such as the formulation of the Bell-Magendie Law, the work of Flourens on the cerebral hemispheres and Cajal’s model of the basic nervous system.

Swanson outlines some very useful principles of organisation in the chapter on the motor system and subsequent chapters. He describes central pattern generator networks which generate sets of commands which are actuated through neuroendocrine, autonomic and somatomotor effectors. He also discusses the cerebellum and looks at the role of the hypothalams in relation to motivation, drives and to the central pattern generator. He also discusses some of the difficulties inherent in the categorisation of the cerebral nuclei and suggests some solutions. There is also a useful overview of the neuroanatomy of the sensory system.

Swanson’s work will repay close study for those with a special interest in neuranatomy and how principles can be derived to make sense of this difficult subject. Lastly here is a great quote from the book

‘He who loves practice without theory is like a seafarer who boards a ship without wheel or compass and knows not whither he travels’ – Leonardo Da Vinci


Swanson L.W. Brain Architecture. Understanding the Basic Plan. Oxford University Press. 2003.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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