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The New Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes in a Complex World
Tara T. Lineweaver, Ph.D.
The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2011;23:227-227.
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Dr. Lineweaver is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The New Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes in a Complex World
by By Elkhonon Goldberg. Published 2009, Oxford University Press, NY334 pages ISBN No. 978-0-19-532940-7 $19.95

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In sixth grade, I played dodgeball during gym. After getting “out,” I ran to the bleachers. I jumped onto the first bleacher, but my foot slipped and my left eye crashed onto the second. I suffered a corneal laceration, a mild concussion, and the trauma of being a sixth-grade girl wearing an eye patch. Although I felt back to myself within a few days, Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg might say that I have a residual mild reticulofrontal disconnection syndrome—“damage to the bidirectional projections between the brain stem and the frontal lobes” (p 199). As I read The New Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes in a Complex World, I honestly started to wonder.

Writing a book review taxes the frontal lobes. As I read this book, my working memory was constantly distracted from processing the text by thoughts of what I was going to say about it. This situation seemed apropos, given the focus of Goldberg's book: how the frontal lobes function effectively in a complex world and what happens when they fail.

The New Executive Brain is not a book for neuro-wimps. Although Goldberg introduces his book as targeting both a general audience and the scientific community, it is not like Steven Johnson's Mind Wide Open or V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee's Phantoms in the Brain or many of Oliver Sacks' books. Goldberg makes many important points that are appropriate for both the lay public and for professionals. For example, all can benefit from recognizing or being reminded of the intimate and undeniable link between the brain and the mind, from “shedding the vestiges of the old [Cartesian dualism] misconception” (p 4). Goldberg successfully uses clinical cases to emphasize this point in the middle chapters. He also offers clear and generally accessible analogies that elucidate the role of the frontal lobes in everyday life. In earlier chapters, however, he introduces a number of elaborate theories relating intricate neuroanatomical and neurochemical systems (extending well beyond the frontal lobes) to complex cognitive processes; and, in later chapters, he goes “inside the black box” (p 252) as he devises advanced computational-neuroscience models of his ideas. Throughout his book, he successfully presents “a distinctly personal, original, and at times provocative viewpoint on a number of topics in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience…many of [these points] remain distinctly partisan, controversial, my own” (p 6). As such, reading this book made me wish that I were part of a book club comprising neuroscientifically-informed colleagues or an instructor of graduate students whom I could send on a literature scavenger-hunt seeking evidence confirming or refuting Goldberg's less-orthodox proposals.

Instead, Goldberg's theories led me to analyze the functioning of my own frontal lobes. And, I found myself time-traveling back to the sixth grade, to that fateful game of dodgeball that may have influenced the development and functioning of my frontal lobes forevermore—a self-reflective, time-defying journey only possible because of my frontal lobes' functioning in a complex world.

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