He succeeds magnificently – the book is an intellectual tour de force, and a brilliant demonstration of how a historical approach is often the best way of explaining difficult scientific problems. Science is, after all, a long series of questions. You open a door into a room, only to find many more doors, with yet more rooms beyond them. You are less likely to get lost in the resulting maze if you start from the beginning.
Cobb is a professor of zoology at Manchester University and an established writer of popular science history. In this sweeping and electrifyingly sceptical book, he tells the story of the scientific understanding of the brain, from early philosophers’ intuitions to the balked, frustrated present in which “we cannot yet see how to take the next step”.