Friday, June 17, 2011

ReView of THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC by Daniel J Levitin


I thought I would give my brain a break from the fictional novels I have been reading but I have to honestly mention that I couldn't wait to finish this book to get back to my fiction reading list.  Nevertheless, I am extremely glad I'm beginning to alternate between the two genres.  While fiction provokes me, either in a positive or negative manner, it turns out that non-fiction brings the cynical nature out of me in some cases, like this one.

Towards the end of the book I began to be really pessimistic, and even irritated about the author and his style of unfolding the link between music and neuroscience of the brain.  It seemed to me that he talked too much about music theory and knowledge, it almost felt like he was coming off as a musician, and in part maybe he is-he does have a background as a musician, but he is writing this book from the perspective of science in relation to music.  I was always just holding on to the hope that he would talk more about the neuroscience details of the brain and the experiments performed in his laboratory ....etc.  But I was let down more than I was surprisingly enlightened.  The best metaphor would be this.  It felt like I was mining a field of diamonds that was scarce in diamonds.

I don't want to beat down the book too much because I did get a lot of pretty interesting information out of it about neuroscience and music.  The text, also, is very easy to read and it is written very simplistically to get directly at the context.  So I think I want to get into some of the things I liked about this book.

As a complete non-musician, and as a person who has rarely ever touched an instrument, but a person who has been around music now more than before in my life ;), I had a enthusiastic appreciation for all the music theory information he was explaining at the beginning of the book.  I hear and perceive music in a slightly more multi-dimentional manner, now.  There is definitely quite a bit of scientific and physics information about the frequencies and harmonics of sound, and that combined with the neuroscience information of how our brain reacts to music and musical parameters is enough to leave you with the impression that this book is pretty dense.  And it is in some parts, which partially why I don't want to get too much into detail because I would have to go on and on and on and it would make for a very lengthy entry.  This book is definitely worth reading in that aspect. If you are looking to know more about music, about the brain in terms of its relationship to music, and vice versa, then I suggest you go get it and read it.

For a person of science who is writing for the general public I think he could have been a little more entertainning and not so technical with his writing.  Coming from a science background and after having read quite a few books of classic literature, I can tell the difference between a methodical piece of writing and a superfluous piece of writing, and his was the former.  Unfortunately, I think this is what took down the novel for me.  I have read pieces of popular science writing and they have been much more entertainning and captivating than this one.  But overall, I would still recommend it to anyone who wants to read on the topic.  On this topic, it's probably one of the better books out there.  And, once again, I do want to emphasize, there are bits and pieces of musical and scientific information that catch you by surprise by leaving you feeling more aware and knowledgeable.

Next on the topic, for me, will be 'Musicophilia' by Oliver Sacks (one of my favorite science writers).  I have honestly wanted to read 'Musicophilia' for a long time, but I decided to warm up with this particular one 'This is Your Brain on Music,'  and I think it has worked, I cannot wait to get started on the Oliver Sacks book on music, soon in the near future.....

If I wasn't a picky reader, and a compulsively analytical reader who takes detailed notes on particulars of information and knowledge, I think I would feel like this book was a complete waste of time.  It's only when I look back at my underlined notes and at the notes I took aside of the book that I realize it does offer a few bits and pieces of science knowledge (and music knowledge)-all of which I am excited to starting piecing together and maybe even looking into further.....





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