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Edited by Jeffrey L Cummings and Michael R Trimble. Published by American Psychiatric Publishing Inc, Washington DC, 2002, pp 246, US$29.95. ISBN 1-58562-078-5
Cognitive neurology is on the up. In Britain, at least, the numbers of trainee neurologists who aim to make this their focus of interest is—at last—increasing. And this is not only because of the attraction of the bright, kaleidoscopic lights of functional imaging! No, some neurologists in the making appreciate that perhaps there is a great deal still to be said for the careful assessment of patients with both focal and diffuse brain lesions. Not only does this offer an important insight into normal brain function, but it is critical for the development of therapies for cognitive impairments. So, is this handbook a helpful contribution to the renewed interest in cognitive function?
It certainly does have several features to recommend it. It is compact, to the point, and gives references to important papers in the literature. It covers a vast amount of neurology and neuropsychiatry in a breathtaking short format. However, although brevity is often to be admired, there is a danger that some of the points being made are going to be appreciated only by those who already know what you are talking about. This surely should not be the aim of a handbook that is aimed at trainees. Moreover, attempts to make things concise can sometimes lead to important omissions. In this text, for example, there is a small section on simultanagnosia that explains well the key feature of this condition, and goes on to mention that it may form part of Balint’s syndrome. But missing is one line that explains that the latter is a rare syndrome observed usually when there is bilateral posterior damage, centred on the inferior parietal lobule. Corticobasal degeneration is confined to a single line in a table, although progressive supranuclear palsy does get a paragraph. Sometimes conciseness also leads to a blurring of distinctions: motor neglect is said to refer to a lack of motor response in the neglected hemispace and is noted also to affect the contralesional limb, whereas most experts use the term to refer to only a limb specific neglect. Finally, the figures could be improved upon. For example, the one showing key elements of the limbic system might look good in the original book from which it is taken, but it really is not very clear or helpful in the version scanned into this handbook.
These sorts of quibble apart, this is a useful guide that serves as a gateway to fuller descriptions and discussions in the primary or review literature. It is worth dipping into to see whether it suits you. My own preference would be for a slightly longer handbook that covers some of the syndromes, conditions, and treatments in a little more detail.
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