Photomicrograph of different components of the rat cerebellum, including Purkinje neurons in green, glia (non-neuronal cells) in red, and cell nuclei in blue. (Image from Hello I am Here.)

Carl Schoonover’s Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century was reviewed in the New York Times on November 29, and the rippling outward hasn’t stopped. Schoonover is a 27 year old Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Columbia. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the images he was working every day, he thought non-neuroscientists as well as non-scientists would be amazed by the visually rich landscape he was exploring.

A number of coffee table books have been published that feature microscopic imagery, and of course I am seduced by any and all images of life in the substrata. But this book combines visually stunning imagery with thoughtful and compelling content as well. Each chapter features an essay by an expert in the field (and a foreword by science writer Jonah Lehrer). The microscopic images are fantastical and explosively lively, but I am also engaged by a compendium of exquisite drawings by Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934). All in all, this is a feast.


Diffusion MRI image of a patient who has suffered a stroke in the thalamus. This has resulted in major disruptions to certain axon tracts, some of which are visible at the bottom of the figure.


Drawing by Santiago Ramón y Cajal

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