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Edited by Kenneth Heilman (Pp 214, £29.95). Published by Oxford University Press, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-19-514490-2
The subtitle of Heilman’s enjoyable book, “a neurologist’s view of brain behaviour relationships”, suggests a philosophical, reflective work. It is, in fact, an informal but sober review of the main areas of behavioural neurology to which Heilman has contributed during his long and productive career.
It has several strengths: personal cases illustrate the topics, personal anecdotes enliven them, and Heilman’s logical mind guides the reader judiciously through the twists and turns of neuropsychology. I particularly enjoyed his chapters on attention, self awareness, and praxis, all subjects on which he has worked.
Trained by Norman Geschwind, well versed in the old European tradition of cortical localisation, Heilman’s emphasis is strongly clinical. Experimental work in animals and functional imaging are largely off stage. In keeping with its informal approach the book is only lightly referenced: a pity, for some readers.
The book introduces a number of challenging generalisations. Heilman takes up Denny Brown’s suggestion that the parietal lobes mediate “approach”, while the frontal lobes inject the necessary measure of “avoidance”, enabling us to judge when approach is wise. He sketches a series of contrasts between the hemispheres: he links the left hemisphere with propositional aspects of language, “focal” perceptual processes, object recognition, restricted (right-sided) spatial awareness, positive emotions, and knowledge of “how” to get things done; he associates the right hemisphere with emotional aspects of language, “global” perceptual processes, face recognition, bilateral spatial awareness, negative emotions, and knowledge of “when” to act; he draws attention to its closer links (than those found on the left) to the limbic and reticular activating system. All this is fascinating—but some of the claims are more controversial than one would gather here, and there is no final synthesis.
This book makes a good introduction to classical clinical neuropsychology. If it should be taken with a pinch of salt the same is true of a good deal of more fashionable work.
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