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Book Forum: Consciousness   |    
Neurochemistry of Consciousness: Neurotransmitters in Mind
JAMES A. WILCOX, D.O., PH.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:1896-a-1897. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.10.1896-a
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El Paso, Tex.

Edited by Elaine Perry, Heather Ashton, and Allan Young. Philadelphia, John Benjamins, 2002, 344 pp., $64.95.

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This book has an excellent title. Things go downhill from there. The title leads one to expect a comprehensive text filled with old, well-established concepts as well as new ones. It is actually a brief introductory book. Neurochemistry of Consciousness is part of a larger series titled Advances in Consciousness Research. One hopes that the series will be a substantial contribution to the compendium of reference literature. The introduction describes the series as a forum for scholars. The question then occurs as to where this book belongs in the series.

Although it contains a large number of topics regarding neurochemistry, this book suffers from a conspicuous lack of detailed information on any particular subject. The general level of information and the presentation are actually very good, but they provide more of a summary than a comprehensive reference. This shortcoming is apparent chapter after chapter. The discussion of neurotransmitters is accurate but lacks the detail suggested by the title of the series. There is relatively little discussion of new research on neurotransmitters.

On the positive side, this book covers many topics that are often omitted from other texts. For example, few books on neurochemistry discuss anything on anesthetics. Other interesting topics include the chemistry of dreams, ethnobotany, and shamanism. The very fact that these "orphan" topics are covered is wonderful. The basic problem is that only a few pages are devoted to any particular subject. This lack of depth plagues Neurochemistry of Consciousness from beginning to end. Neuroscience is a rapidly evolving area where old concepts are often replaced by new material. This book appropriately does not spend time on outdated material but needs more information on the excellent new material chosen. The items presented are very interesting and well supported by clinical and research references.

This is an excellent book for the undergraduate studying for a career in psychology or psychiatry. It is well written and very easy to understand. The basic concepts of neurochemistry are handled quite well and make this an interesting primer for the beginning student of psychopharmacology. One could say that Neurochemistry of Consciousness does not waste any words. The diagrams and tables contribute to the educational nature of the chapters. The references make an excellent list for further reading. This book is good for the educated general reader or college student. I cannot recommend it to the neuroscientist or research psychiatrist, but it is a fine read for any layperson interested in the topic or for the clinician who has not visited the topic for a while. Perhaps this nice little volume should have been called a synopsis of neuroscience. I look forward to an expanded version in the future.

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