Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review: Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot

Years ago, I happened upon Richard Restak's intriguing book, Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber. I remember listening to it in audio form and absolutely loving it. It was full of information about the brain and anxiety. I was riveted. I wrote a glowing review here. Indeed, after writing a novel about a girl suffering from an anxiety disorder, I should probably reread the book.

I knew he had another similarly titled book, Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot, but I could not find it in any local libraries and never bothered to seek it out through interlibrary loan. Then, my mother-in-law decided to come for a visit and since her library has the book, I requested she bring it along. As much as I believe books come into our hands at particular moments for a purpose, I also believe that sometimes we're just not in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate a book. This may have been the case with Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot.

Unlike the previously read book by Restak, this book provides 28 suggestions for enhancing your brain's performance. It is more a manual-style book. Although the exercises sounded interesting, I did not attempt even one. Some of them were ridiculously out of my league. For example, to train memory skills, the author suggests that you complete crossword puzzles without writing any of the answers in but merely remembering, visually, where they belong and how they intersect. I am not a crossword puzzle kind of person. I have trouble enough with them when I can write the words down. The thought of attempting one simply by visualizing the answers is out of the question.

The suggestions encompassed improving memory skills, powers of logic and metacognition, sensory capacities, fine-motor skills, and various other facets of brain usage. I wasn't exactly bored, but I wasn't entirely engaged during the reading either. I'm not sure my brain power will be any stronger (since I didn't attempt any of the recommended exercises). The suggestions were reasonable, just not terribly earth-shattering or new.

Of the two books I've encountered by this neuropsychiatrist, I would definitely recommend Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber over this one. Do realize, though, that the titles are clever, but not a great indication of what is inside the cover. The first book is not really about mountain climbing or even much about Poe. The second book did focus on Mozart (recommending frequent moments listening to his music) in passing, but never once explained the significance of the brain of a supposed fighter pilot. I'm guessing he used this phrase to be clever and to indicate that fighter pilots require intense mental acuity. I will continue to do the things I already actively pursue for brain stimulation (writing, reading, and working puzzles).

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