Book Review: Brain Rules / 12 Principles for Pwning with Your Brain

The books is called Brain Rules, the reader is called Khatzumoto and the innocent bystander in all this is you!

Let the opinionating begin… 🙂

Title ブレイン・ルール / Brain Rules
Author ジョン=メディナ / John MEDINA
Language Japanese (translation of an English-language book)
Fiction/Non-fiction Non-fiction
Other Info The book has a really cool companion website
Pros
  • Clear, level-headed, while also optimistic. A refreshing break from the, I dunno, hype you sometimes get with personal development books
  • Comes with a DVD
Cons
  • Long-winded
  • Not enough formatting (bullet points, highlighting, etc.) to help you get straight to the point
  • A little too much reductio ad evolutionary psychology for my taste, but…that’s par for the course, I guess
  • DVD has no Japanese audio (English audio, Japanese subs)
  • Hardcover. That’s annoying. I cannot carry this spiel around. Dang, I can’t wait till Japanese books start getting the Kindle treatment.
Comments It’s good to get back to the basics now and then and to have a lot of what many people already knew/suspected about the brain and learning (sleep = good, repetition = good, stress = bad) reinforced in one, solid, authoritative place.

Fluffy newspaper articles written by people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about (often touting the latest poorly done research that somehow demonstrates that it may actually be better to avoid sleep, eat more chocolate and drink more alcohol) can get old fast.

Brain Rules
Medina’s passionate call for workplace and school reform (allow owls to work at night and larks to work in the morning; make information interesting and exciting to the senses; be kind and gentle to people – don’t use fear and intimidation; repeat important information) is a refreshing appeal to sanity and something that more people need to hear, take seriously, and actually implement.

I especially enjoyed Dr. Medina’s memory advice: “Remember to repeat. Repeat to remember.” His observation that there’s actually far too little repetition going on in schools really hit home for me. I wonder if the good doctor knows about SRS, because he should totally get all up on that.

Ultimately, I’m of the opinion that in many countries and in most cases, school does more harm than good and we’d be better off without it, or with a radically reduced, elective version of it. Certainly, we could do better than the glorified prisons we have now. Compulsory schooling: fail. Libraries: win. But…yeah, anyway.

The DVD was a great addition to the book. Simple and humorous, it was a gratifying example of someone actually following his own advice (“we don’t pay attention to boring things”, “[to learn better,] stimulate more of the senses”).

Like I said, the book was a bit long-winded for me: it feels like it could have gotten to the point much quicker than it did. Coming from me, that really is the pot calling the kettle black, so…deal with the irony as you will, hehe. Personally, I got the most out of the DVD and website. So if you do get the book, get it for the DVD. You could also get the audiobook (currently only available in English, AFAIK) and play it at high speed or something.

I’ve never actually read the English version of the book, so it could be that this is a case where the translator didn’t have time to chew the book down into smooth, fluid Japanese. Those who know, know that English can sound very belabored and heavy-handed when translated semi-literally into Japanese. (Translators are sometimes rushed into producing work that doesn’t reflect the full extent of their abilities: I speak from professional experience. I don’t think it’s a question of malice, it’s just that a lot of people — even within the translation industry — don’t realize that a good translator doesn’t simply convert text, but rewrites and re-interprets it).

Anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing, hearing and reading more from Dr. Medina in the future. His is a voice that needs to be heard.

Random aside: my friend Eisuke and I were wondering why audiobooks aren’t as common in Japan as they are in the US. We concluded that it must be because so many people use trains here.

While people in rural areas move primarily by car, all Japan’s major urban centers have excellent public transportation networks up and running. You’ll notice that people in trains are always busy reading newspapers, manga, and bunkobons, so there’s simply not as much absolute need for non-text books.

Having said that, reading in a packed train can kind of suck a bit, even with a bunkobon. So I’m sure audiobooks would be a welcome development. I know I’d be all over it. I used to hate audiobooks, thinking they were for idiots who couldn’t read. And slow audiobooks still annoy the heck out of me, but high-speed audiobooks are right up there with kittens and tall women.


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  7 comments for “Book Review: Brain Rules / 12 Principles for Pwning with Your Brain

  1. August 13, 2010 at 01:14

    Excellent book that had me redesign many aspects of my life!
    I read it in English though.

  2. August 13, 2010 at 02:20

    I hope Momoko-san is tall ;P. But seriously, I’m gonna have to breakdown and find a Japanese copy of this book to read. I’ve put it off because I didn’t want to read it in English, but if there’s a J-version I’ll have to get it…or maybe just read his website, lol.

  3. August 13, 2010 at 05:27

    This book really is fantastic. I’ll be writing in article about it on my site sometime.

    For anyone nervous about breaking the L2-only streak, this is the book to do it with. The rewards you reap will be far greater than the setback of reading in English. William brings up a good point that it just helps you restructure your life.

  4. Mattholomew III, Esquire
    August 13, 2010 at 07:14

    Just placed a hold at my local library. This sucker is checked out everywhere, along with How to Make Friends and Influence People, which I hear is also great stuff.

  5. Maya
    August 15, 2010 at 01:30

    “I can’t wait till Japanese books start getting the Kindle treatment.”

    You and the rest of the Japanosphere. Actually, it seems that the new kindle can display Japanese and Chinese characters, but the actual amount of J-books you can buy/download on kindle is currently something like 300 (literally). ;_; Which is of course nothing.

    The second amazon.co.jp decides to seriously jump on the kindle bandwagon, I’m gonna be all over it.

  6. Robert
    October 12, 2010 at 14:01

    I ordered the German version of this and got it in the mail today. Just flipping through, it looks like everything was translated rather well. Also, I think it is formated quite sufficiently. Bolded titles, numbered and bulleted lists, italics, etc. So, it was probably, as you put it, an issue with the translator being a little too rushed.

  7. Bradley Curry
    August 6, 2012 at 14:58

    I know this is a 2 year old review, but I just finally bought the book and wanted to let Khatz know that Dr. Medina explicitly mentions spaced repetition when talking about Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus: “We now know that the space between repetitions is the critical component from transforming temporary memories into more persistent forms. Spaced learning is greatly superior to massed learning.”

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