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Edited by Marjan Jahanshahi and Mark Hallett. Published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003, pp 315, £150.00. ISBN 0-306-47407-7
The Bereitschaftspotential (BP; readiness potential, although the sense of the German word is rather more imperative) was discovered in 1964 and named in 1965 by Hans Kornhuber and Lüder Deeke. In their original description it was a negative going wave of cortical potential that was first detectable 1–1.5 s before the movement occurred. Like the demonstration of evoked potentials, it was a technological advance (the computer of average transients or signal averager) that permitted detection of these minute waveforms. The discovery (with its implications for volition and free will) acted as a considerable stimulus to research. This book brings up to date the state of knowledge concerning the BP and other brain potentials occurring around the time of a motor act.
It is an expensive text. What does the reader get for the money? The book consists of 17 chapters in 7 sections. There is a brief introduction by the editors that states the aims of the book. These are: to explain the processes that the BP reflects, to quantify the number of components responsible for the BP, to explore the anatomical substrate for the BP, and to flag up areas for future research. These are commendable aims, and, to the extent that much information on all these aspects is contained in the book, they are achieved.
However, the arrangement of the material into the 7 sections of the book does not neatly reflect these aims and it is left to the reader to pick out the information where it occurs. This approach of presenting a number of unpublished papers with little sub-editing has its pros and cons. In its favour there is a mass of new data from experts in the field and an element of historical and personal background and critical commentary that one would not otherwise find in the scientific literature. Against it is the difficulty of obtaining a coherent overview of the subject. This is compounded by inconsistent terminology (a glossary of abbreviations is a serious omission, the more so as the abbreviations are often inconsistent), and poor proof reading (there are very many minor errors). The general reader will find the introduction useful and will enjoy the chapters by Libet and by Deeke and Kornhuber but, as a whole, the book is strictly one for the specialist.
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