BOOK REVIEW. The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropathology

By: Nathan Zasler, MD, Chief Editor, NeuroTrauma Letter, Chairperson, IBIA, Medical Director and CEO, Tree of Life and Concussion Care Centre of Virginia

This is a very welcome addition to the field of neuroscience literature and should be read by anyone involved in the care of persons with disorders of consciousness. The book starts with a thoughtful Preface by the editors, Dr. Laureys and Dr. Tononi, which is followed by yet another introspective commentary by Dr. Allan Hobson of Harvard Medical School in the form of a Prologue. The contributors to this text include some quickly recognizable names, including Drs. James Bernat, Antonio Damasio, Joseph Fins, Michael Gazzaniga, Adrian Owen, Joseph Giacino, Nicholas Schiff and Adam Zeman, among others.

The book is divided into four primary sections “Basics,” “Walking, Sleep and Anesthesia,” “Coma and Related Conditions,” and “Seizures, Splits, Neglects and Assorted Disorders.”  As both an editor and clinician, I found the book to be organized in a very readable manner.  Each chapter is nicely divided into categories and sub-categories.  In general,  chapters are well referenced.  A number of the chapters have useful tables and diagrams, some in color. 

There is some unevenness in chapter length, which, in part, is based upon the depth of the review and subject matter being discussed.  Some chapters are, disappointingly, only cursorily referenced, like the chapter on coma by Dr. G. Bryan Young.

Practically, all the chapters are written in a relatively succinct manner with the chapter by Giacino and Schiff on “Minimally Conscious State:  Clinical Features, Pathophysiology and Therapeutic Implications,” probably being one of the most detailed and highly referenced in the book.  The chapter by Dr. Andrea Kubler is a stand-out chapter on a cutting edge topic, specifically “Brain-computer interfaces for communication in paralyzed patients with implications fordisorders in consciousness”.  A book on this topic would not have been complete without a discussion of ethical issues which are well addressed by neuroethicist, Dr. Joseph Fins, in Chapter 18.

The inclusion of the chapter by Dr. Patrik Vuilleumier on the “Neurophysiology of self-awareness disorders in conversion hysteria” is a fascinating chapter and although I have not seen much on this topic typically included in the context of discussing disorders of consciousness, I think it is an important and interesting subject that makes for an extremely interesting read. 

The chapter by Blanke and Dieguez on “Out of body and near death experience” is also a fascinating read and one that I’m sure will attract attention of readers simply given the fascination that we have, both as humans and as scientists, with this controversial topic; interestingly, this chapter is heavily referenced, which might come as a surprise, given the topic area.  A chapter entitled “Blindness and Consciousness:  New Light from the DarK” by Pietrini, Ptito and Kupers provides some very fascinating and new information on this topic and will be of great interest to any clinicians who work with individuals with significant visual impairments after brain insult. 

Lastly, the editors have done a very nice job in Chapter 28 by providing readers with an overview on “The neurology of consciousness” and provide a nice succinct summary of the book's contents in a single chapter. This chapter is certainly a stand-out.

I would highly recommend the text to any clinician involved in the neurosciences with an interest in consciousness and/or disorders of consciousness. It is well worth the asking price and is an excellent source of current information on the topic. Overall rating 9 out of 10.

Edited By Steven Laureys and Giulio Tononi

Academic press - Imprint of Elsevier
London, United Kingdom 2009, 423 pages 
Suggested retail price:  $99.95 USD