The Idea of the Brain (Hardback)

A History: SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020

Matthew Cobb

A monumental, sweeping journey from the ancient roots of neurology to the most astonishing recent research

Sunday Times Book of the Year

Telegraph Science Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize

This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.

Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock the its deepest secrets once and for all?

Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how we came to our present state of knowledge. Our latest theories allow us to create artificial memories in the brain of a mouse, and to build AI programmes capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. A complete understanding seems within our grasp.

But to make that final breakthrough, we may need a radical new approach. At every step of our quest, Cobb shows that it was new ideas that brought illumination. Where, he asks, might the next one come from? What will it be?

Publication date: 12/03/2020

£30.00

ISBN: 9781781255896

Imprint: Profile Books

Subject: Science & Mathematics

The Idea of the Brain (Ebook)

A History: SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020

Matthew Cobb

A monumental, sweeping journey from the ancient roots of neurology to the most astonishing recent research

Sunday Times Book of the Year

Telegraph Science Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize

This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.

Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock the its deepest secrets once and for all?

Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how we came to our present state of knowledge. Our latest theories allow us to create artificial memories in the brain of a mouse, and to build AI programmes capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. A complete understanding seems within our grasp.

But to make that final breakthrough, we may need a radical new approach. At every step of our quest, Cobb shows that it was new ideas that brought illumination. Where, he asks, might the next one come from? What will it be?

Publication date: 12/03/2020

£8.99

ISBN: 9781782832256

ISBN 10 / ASIN: B07G4J41GP

Imprint: Profile Books

Subject: Science & Mathematics

The Idea of the Brain (Audiobook)

A History: SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020

Matthew Cobb

Buy from

A monumental, sweeping journey from the ancient roots of neurology to the most astonishing recent research

Sunday Times Book of the Year

Telegraph Science Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize

This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.

Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock the its deepest secrets once and for all?

Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how we came to our present state of knowledge. Our latest theories allow us to create artificial memories in the brain of a mouse, and to build AI programmes capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. A complete understanding seems within our grasp.

But to make that final breakthrough, we may need a radical new approach. At every step of our quest, Cobb shows that it was new ideas that brought illumination. Where, he asks, might the next one come from? What will it be?

Publication date: 12/03/2020

£19.99

ISBN: 9781782836889

Imprint: Profile Books

Subject: Science & Mathematics

The Idea of the Brain (Paperback)

A History: SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020

Matthew Cobb

A monumental, sweeping journey from the ancient roots of neurology to the most astonishing recent research, which Henry Marsh (Admissions) called an 'intellectual tour de force'

Shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize

This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.

Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock the its deepest secrets once and for all?

Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how we came to our present state of knowledge. Our latest theories allow us to create artificial memories in the brain of a mouse, and to build AI programmes capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. A complete understanding seems within our grasp.

But to make that final breakthrough, we may need a radical new approach. At every step of our quest, Cobb shows that it was new ideas that brought illumination. Where, he asks, might the next one come from? What will it be?

Publication date: 04/03/2021

£12.99

ISBN: 9781781255902

Imprint: Profile Books

Subject: Science & Mathematics

Reviews for The Idea of the Brain

'An intellectual tour de force, and a brilliant demonstration of how a historical approach is often the best way of explaining difficult scientific problems ... For anybody who wants to understand the depths of our understanding of our brains, and our even deeper ignorance, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.'

Henry Marsh New Statesman

'Sweeping and electrifyingly sceptical'

James McConnachie The Times

'Cobb is a rare jewel. [The Idea of the Brain] is a typically erudite, thrilling and thorough exploration of the most complex thing in the known universe.'

Adam Rutherford The Week

'The best book produced in my lifetime on the brain.'

Richard C Atkinson, President Emeritus, University of California 

Matthew Cobb

Matthew Cobb

Matthew Cobb is Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester where his research focuses on the sense of smell, insect behaviour and the history of science. His books include The Egg & Sperm Race and acclaimed accounts of the French Resistance during the Second World War and the liberation of Paris in 1944.