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Reviews Written by
Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)
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Being Mortal
Being Mortal
by Atul Gawande
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.47
4 used & new from CDN$ 16.47

5.0 out of 5 stars "Only now did I begin to recognize how understanding the finitude of one's time could be a gift", Feb. 28 2015
This review is from: Being Mortal (Hardcover)
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"I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them...

This is a book about the modern experience of mortality--about what it's like to be creatures who age and die, how medicine has changed the experience and how it hasn't, where our ideas about how to deal with our finitude have got the reality wrong. As I pass a decade in surgical practice and become middle-aged myself, I find that neither I nor my patients find our current state tolerable...

You don't have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help.

The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver's chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions--nursing homes and intensive care units--where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all things that matter to us in life...

Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to their very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology, and strangers.

I wrote this book in the hope of understanding what has happened...And [seeing] if there are better approaches."

The above comes from the introduction of this extremely well-written book by Atul Gawande. He is a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston as well as a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Gawande has written three bestselling books and has won numerous awards for his writing.

This book is a personal meditation on how we can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death. It is also a call for a change in the philosophy of health care.

In the first part of this book, Gawande offers different models of senior living. In the latter part, which is shorter, he shifts rather abruptly to end-of-life medicine.

To get his points across, Gawande has plenty of absorbing and riveting true stories of his own patients. He also includes stories from his own family. I found his father's brave battle with his illness particularly engaging (and I can imagine that it was extremely difficult to write).

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that it has no index. True this book is made up of true stories so perhaps it does not warrant an index. However, within the stories, are valuable pieces of information. This important information is not easy to access without an index.

In conclusion, this book is riveting, honest, humane, and I feel a valuable contribution to the growing literature on aging, dying, and death. It makes clear that the ultimate goal is not a good death but rather a good life--all the way to the very end.

(First published 2014; introduction; 8 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 265 pages; notes on sources; acknowledgements; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Nova: Vaccines - Calling the Shots [Import]
Nova: Vaccines - Calling the Shots [Import]
Price: CDN$ 31.16
20 used & new from CDN$ 15.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Are vaccines safe and effective? You decide!!, Feb. 22 2015
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"Our lives are linked as never before, connected every day in a thousand unseen ways. But sometimes these connections can pose an invisible threat if the object we touch or the air we share carries a dangerous germ.

Diseases largely unseen for a generation are returning. Today, children are getting sick and dying from preventable diseases as nervous parents skip their children's shots. In a world of often conflicting information, parents are seeking what's best for their families while doctors worry about saving lives."

The above comes from the introduction of this exceptionally informative documentary.

The chapters for this program are:

(1) The invisible threat
(2) Measles outbreak
(3) History of vaccines
(4) Herd immunity
(5) Dravet syndrome
(6) Polio
(7) Science of autism
(8) HPV (human papilloma virus)
(9) Weighing risk

This documentary does a good job of explaining the science behind vaccines--why they work, how they work, and how we decide to vaccinate or not. What intrigued me is that it also examines the risks of vaccines and how they are blamed for causing harm when there's no scientific proof.

Brief comments are made by experts, parents, and even those seriously affected by vaccines. The experts come from such institutions as

(1) The Royal Children's Hospital
(2) New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
(3) London School of Medicine and Tropical Medicine
(4) Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
(5) University of Melbourne (which has a world-renowned immunologist on its faculty)
(6) Autism Science Foundation
(7) School of Medicine, UCLA

The only problem I had with this program is that it does not mention the ingredients (medicinal and non-medicinal) that compose vaccines generally.

Finally, the DVD itself (released in 2014) has three extras. I found them all interesting.

In conclusion, this is quite an informative documentary that explains a controversial topic--vaccinations.

(2014; 53 min excluding end credits; 9 chapters; wide screen; PBS-NOVA)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
DVD ~ Christopher Lambert
Price: CDN$ 9.93
30 used & new from CDN$ 8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Tarzan movie that doesn't monkey around, Feb. 16 2015
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"Half of me is the Earl of Greystoke, the other half is wild."

The above comes from this impressive movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 novel "Tarzan of the Apes."

This movie was done so well that it was the first ever "Tarzan" feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

For purists, the first half of this movie follows Burroughs' original story and is quite beautifully filmed. There is minimal talking in this half. It is the second half that departs radically from the original story. Nonetheless, this second half is quite well done.

All the main actors do excellent jobs in their roles. Christopher Lambert, a French/English actor gives a believable performance as Tarzan/John Clayton, Seventh Earl of Greystoke. He does not appear until about 43 minutes into this movie. This was his English movie debut.

Andie McDowell as Jane had her voice dubbed by Glenn Close (uncredited). Her voice was dubbed because of her southern U.S. accent. She appears about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the movie. This was her movie debut.

Sir Ralph Richardson (1902 to 1983) gives an admirable performance as the Sixth Earl of Greystoke and John Clayton's grandfather. This was his last movie and this movie is dedicated to him.

Another good performance comes from Ian Holm who plays Captain D'Arnot. He found Tarzan in the jungles of Africa and realized he was John Clayton. It was he who brought Tarzan/John back to upper-class human civilization.

Realize, the name "Tarzan" is never used in this movie!!

The music is performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In fact, this movie begins with a minute and a half "overture" performed by this orchestra.

Filming was in Cameroon (in Africa) and Scotland. Specific locations in the UK included Floor's Castle, Blenheim Palace, and The Natural History Museum.

Finally, the DVD itself (released in 2004) has only two extras.

In conclusion, this Tarzan movie is a lavish, magical epic not to be missed!!!

(1984; 2 hr, 13 min excluding end credits; widescreen; 37 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History is Changing Your Life
The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History is Changing Your Life
by Robin L. Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.55
40 used & new from CDN$ 1.60

4.0 out of 5 stars A major medical revolution that may change the world--FOREVER!!, Feb. 10 2015
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"This is a book about the real struggles of real people. But it's also a book about their strength, courage...and, in many cases, their improvements or even cures because of adult stem cell treatments.

This book is also about the...science behind these successes and the hope this science presents for the people you'll meet in the...pages [of this book], the ones waiting desperately for cures--and who've lost precious time during their wait.

And so this is not an easy book, emotionally or intellectually. Be prepared for hard stories. But also be prepared for exciting science and finally, for a clear-eyed view of medicine many decades in the making that is now paying off with treatments [for the entire human body].

These treatments aren't a science fiction author's far-fetched vision of the future. These are today's therapies, either currently used in hospitals or pushing their way through promising clinical trials."

The above comes from the introduction of this informative and inspirational book by (1) Robin Smith, MD, MBA (2) Max Gomez, PhD (neuroscience), and (3) Monsignor Tomasz Trafny. Smith is the President and serves on the Board of Directors of the Stem for Life Foundation. She is also the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Neostem Company. Gomez is an award-winning medical journalist who also serves on the Board of the Stem for Life Foundation. Trafny serves as official at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, head of Science and Faith Department.

The conditions covered in this book that can be treated using adult stem cells include heart and vascular disease, burns, brain trauma and stroke, psychiatric disorders, spinal cord injuries, neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's), bone and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) problems, ALS (or Lou Gehrig's Disease), MS, arthritis, autoimmune conditions (like Lupus), cancer, sensory impairments, and HIV/AIDS.

There are also chapters on organ regeneration and cosmetics. The final chapter is entitled "How to find safe stem cell therapies."

The entire book is easy-to-read. The science is made easy-to-understand. The real-life stories of people suffering from a disease but helped by adult stem cells are touching and inspirational.

Finally, I had a few problems with this book. I want to stress that these problems do not affect its readability:

(1) There is a printed address at the very beginning of this book by "His Holiness Benedict XVI." Immediately after this address is the book's Forword by the "President of the Pontifical Council for Culture." I had some serious concerns with these as they seem to be disjointed from the rest of the book. (I actually anticipated that I would have concerns with these essays so I read them after I had read the book proper. I'm glad I did. I strongly recommend that other potential readers do the same.)

(2) I winced when I read the qualifications of the lead author, Dr. Smith. She has an MBA, is a CEO and Chairman. This gives the impression that stem cells are going to be big business and thus be too expensive for those people (like myself) that can benefit from their healing power.

(3) I can see how two of the authors, Dr. Smith and Dr. Gomez, contributed to this book but I can't see how Msgr. Trafny contributed to it. Perhaps, he helped with the address and Forword.

(4) The late actor Christopher Reeve (who had a spinal cord injury) as well as actor Michael J. Fox (who has young-onset Parkinson's) and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (who has ALS) were/are highly visible proponents of stem cells. Yet, they're not mentioned in this book. Why?

(5) I had difficulties with the last chapter entitled (as mentioned above) "How to find safe stem cell therapies." I suspect the authors had a tough time writing it. The authors don't mention it but it seems to me that if you want to get safe stem cell therapies in North America you have to depend on luck. Why don't the authors just say this?

(I was especially interested in this chapter because I have a neurodegenerative condition called "cerebellar degeneration" or "cerebellar atrophy" and would like to participate in stem cell clinical trials for it. My profile on this site has more information.)

In conclusion, stem cells could potentially be the "greatest revolution in medical history" giving hope where only there was despair!!!

(First published 2013; address; forword; introduction; 18 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; acknowledgements; list of registered trademarks)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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5.0 out of 5 stars The best writings of "Canada's nature authority" and "one of the continent's most remarkable men", Feb. 2 2015
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"The very foundations of our lives--air, water, photosynthesis, soil, and food--are made possible by the web of life that evolved on a once-sterile planet. Living organisms on land and in oceans--including us--create, cleanse, and regenerate those vital elements.

Who needs nature? We do.

Without nature, we would not be here.

HOW DO WE PUT AN ECONOMIC VALUE ON THAT?"

The above comes from one of the essays in this book by David Suzuki. He is a scientist, environmentalist, author, and broadcaster as well as a Companion of the Order of Canada. Suzuki is a recipient of UNESCO's prize for the Popularization of Science as well as a recipient of many other awards and honorary degrees.

This is a revised and expanded edition of Suzuki's writings (essays and articles) that have been written over a period of twenty-five years. In fact, this might be regarded as a definitive selection of his most thought-provoking scientific and insightful philosophical writings.

In these writings, there is an increased emphasis on the solutions to the many environmental problems that we face, Suzuki's inspiring vision for the future, and the legacy he hopes to leave behind. There is also more emphasis on the personal.

What I like about Suzuki's writing is that they are clear, concise, and he gets to the point quickly and efficiently. And you can be sure that any science presented is accurate and up-to-date.

This book is made up of eight sections. Each section has a cover essay that introduces the ideas of the "bite size" essays that follow in a particular section. Below I will state the name of a section, the number of essays in that section [in square brackets], and my favourite essay or essays (whose title(s) will be in quotation marks) in a particular section:

(1) Interconnections [22]: "Global Warming" and "IPCC report shows that climate change is critical"
(2) Economics and Politics [17]: "The hubris of global economics," "Endless growth--an impossible dream," "What is the value of something we can't live without?" and "True wealth"

(3) Science, Technology, and Information [11]: "The prostitution of academia," and "Why a warmer world won't be a better world"
(4) Science and Ethics [6]: "Political decisions require scientific literacy"

(5) A Bio-Centric View [13]: "The system and the ecosystem" and "Anti-environmentalists are stuck in the past"
(6) Leaders, Role models, and Success Stories [17]: "A woman in science," "Young people," and "A new kind of political leader"

(7) Life and Family [5]: "Lessons my father taught me are worth sharing"
(8) A Lifetime of Activism [6]: "Starting the David Suzuki Foundation" and "The declaration of INTERDEPENDENCE"

If I was to choose one favorite essay from this collection, I would choose "The Declaration of Interdependence." As of 2014, this essay has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Don't feel compelled to start with the first essay and then read each in sequential order. What I did was that I jumped around, choosing the essays that interested me, both within a particular section and between sections.

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that the date a particular essay was published is not mentioned on the essay itself. As well, we are told that there are "new essays never published in a book" that are included in this book. These new essays are not indicated.

In conclusion, this is a definitive selection of David Suzuki's most thought-provoking scientific and philosophical writings. I leave you with five steps (of ten) developed by the David Suzuki Foundation that can be taken by ordinary citizens to reduce environmental impact:

(1) Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances.
(2) Eat meat-free meals once a week.
(3) Use transit, carpool, walk, or bike one day a week.
(4) If you buy a car, make sure it's low polluting and fuel efficient.
(5) Learn more about conserving nature and tell others what you have learned.

(Copyright 2003 and 2014; foreword; preface; 8 sections or 105 essays; epilogue; references; index; credits; The David Suzuki Foundation)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Lost Boys (2-Disc Special Edition)
The Lost Boys (2-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Jason Patric
Price: CDN$ 15.33
18 used & new from CDN$ 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars All boys need a mother, Jan. 20 2015
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"We've been aware of serious vampire activity in this town for a long time. Santa Carla has become a haven for the undead. As a matter of fact, we're almost certain that ghouls and werewolves occupy high positions at City Hall."

The above is said by Edgar, one of the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman), in this absorbing horror/comedy movie. (The other brother's name is Allan. The Frog brothers were named after Gothic author, Edgar Allan Poe.)

Briefly, it's about two Arizona brothers, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (the late Corey Haim), who move to California and end up fighting a gang of teenage vampires headed by David (Keifer Sutherland).

This is not only a horror movie with vampires but is also a hilarious comedy. The ones that bring a comedic element to this movie are Sam (mentioned above), Grandpa (the late Bernard Hughes), Edgar (mentioned above), Lucy (Dianne Wiest), and Max (the late Edward Herrmann).

The special effects and background music are quite good.

The title of this movie is a reference to "Lost Boys," in the stories about Peter Pan and Neverland who, like the vampires, never grow up.

This film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels: "Lost Boys: The Tribe" and "Lost Boys: The Thirst."

Finally, this DVD set (released in 2004) has 11 extras. I found all of them to be good.

In conclusion, this is quite an entertaining movie that blends humour with comedy. One thing I learned from this movie is to:

Beware of those with bad breath.

(1987; 1 hr, 35 min excluding end credits; wide screen 2 discs; 32 scenes; rated `R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Secret Life of Sleep
The Secret Life of Sleep
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about "death's counterfeit", Jan. 11 2015
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"Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."

The above is what Shakespeare tells us about sleep (through his play "Macbeth").

Kat Duff updates what Shakespeare has to say about sleep through her well-researched and well-written book. Duff is an award-winning author and a "professional therapist." (We're not told what kind of therapist.)

This is a multifaceted book. This means the author drew upon many sources in writing this book:

Personal experience, scientific research, literary descriptions, autobiographies, myths, sleep and waking routines across cultures and eras, and spiritual traditions from around the globe.

Topics covered in this book include:

Falling asleep, sleep stages, insomnia, drugs that help you sleep, dreaming, waking up, phasing out sleep, and the future of sleep.

Finally, I only had two problems with this book:

(1) I felt there were too many personal anecdotes.
(2) There is no index. A wealth of important information is presented but there is no easy access to it.

In conclusion, I feel that this is a good book on an important subject. I'll leave you with two important quotes from this book:

(1) "Sleep is an occurrence that is so common, so habitual, so ubiquitous, we barely notice [it until...] its quality is deteriorating."

(2) "Our waking and sleeping lives require and inform each other, whether we like it or not."

(First published 2014; prologue; 17 chapters; main narrative 205 pages; acknowledgements; notes; recommended reading)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
Price: CDN$ 33.83
20 used & new from CDN$ 24.57

5.0 out of 5 stars "You are about to experience the outer reaches of future shock", Jan. 4 2015
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"I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one...sometimes resulting in nosebleeds, earaches, stomach cramps, nausea. Sometimes other symptoms of a similar nature."

The above comes from this absorbing sci-fi horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg.

What is a scanner? "A freak of nature, born with a certain form of ESP. A derangement of the synapses which we call telepathy."

Cause: Unknown (but eventually revealed in this movie).

Number of Scanners on our planet according to this film: 237

This is a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot outs (including a grotesque scanner duel scene at the end). It has good special effects.

This movie displays Cronenberg's trademark combination of the visceral and the cerebral. As well, it is considered his breakout hit in the U.S.

I must warn you that the plot can be complex so it's imperative to watch closely. Very generally, the plot involves Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a renegade and tyrannical scanner, who is being hunted by another scanner, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack).

This movie spawned sequels and spin-offs. Cronenberg had no involvement with these possibly because they move away from philosophical angles explored by this film.

This movie's budget was three and a half million dollars and its box office earnings, so far, has been over fourteen million.

Finally, the DVD set itself (released in 2014) has 8 extras. All of them are worthy of consideration.

In conclusion, I can't promise that this movie will blow you away but it might just cause your head to explode!!

(1981; 1 hr, 40 min excluding end credits; 2 discs, 12 scenes, wide screen, Criterion Collection, rated `R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities
The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities
by Caleb Scharf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
36 used & new from CDN$ 16.56

5.0 out of 5 stars Earth to Copernicus: "How DARE you call me mediocre!!", Dec 28 2014
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"The quest to find our cosmic significance, to resolve the conflict between our Copernican mediocrity and our specialness, will take us from the deepest history of the Earth to its farthest future, to planetary systems across our Galaxy, and from the great universe of astronomy to the microscopic universe of biology.

It's also going to take us to the cutting edge of scientific inquiry into our cosmic origins--an exploration being carried out through mathematical wizardry and cunning observations of nature. And it will lead us to an unwavering examination of the specific circumstances we find ourselves in, our place in the cosmos."

The above comes from the prologue of this book by Caleb Scharf. He is the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. Caleb is also a writer for various science publication such as "New Scientist" and "Scientific American."

For those that don't know, it was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543) who proposed that the Earth revolves around the Sun and is not the center of the universe. Having demoted Earth to mediocrity, he set in motion a scientific revolution.

In this book, Scharf wants to show (as the book's subtitle tells us) "our cosmic significance in a universe of planets and probabilities." Actually, after reading this book, I found the word "significance" in the subtitle to be somewhat misleading. I feel the subtitle should have been "Our cosmic place in a universe of planets and probabilities."

The author covers the entire gamut in his discussion, from microbes within the Earth to life beyond the Earth, to extrasolar planets or exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond. His writing, I found, was engaging and perhaps most important, accessible.

As well, Scharf uses the latest scientific findings to help us reconsider where we stand in the balance between cosmic unusualness and cosmic mediocrity.

Finally, the author eventually gives us his final conclusion with respect to our place in the universe. He actually continues his discussion briefly after he makes his conclusion. I found the material after his conclusion to be quite interesting.

In conclusion, this book tests the limits of the Copernican Principle by asking the following question:

"Is the Earth's (and thus humankind's) position in the universe beyond just ordinary?"

(first published 2014; prologue; 8 chapters; main narrative 230 pages; notes; acknowledgements; index; a note about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Secret Life of the Brain
The Secret Life of the Brain
Price: CDN$ 47.24
22 used & new from CDN$ 36.98

5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!, Dec 21 2014
This review is from: The Secret Life of the Brain (DVD)
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What is the brain? It's that part of the central nervous system encased within the skull.

This series explores the new map of nature's most complicated organ that has emerged from modern neuroscience.

There are five parts to this documentary:

(1) The baby's brain (49 min, 30 sec)
(2) The child's brain (51 min)
(3) The teenage brain (51 min, 30 sec)
(4) The adult brain (51 min)
(5) The aging brain (52 min)

The way this program proceeds (and the way medicine proceed generally) is to investigate what goes wrong with the brain at each of these stages of human life. Thus, the viewer learns about such things as premature babies, dyslexia, schizophrenia, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, paralysis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

This five-episode documentary gets its information across through a mixture of personal histories, expert commentary, and excellent animation.

As you can imagination, a documentary on the brain can be quite complicated. What this documentary does is to give the most important information while concentrating on personal histories. The result? The viewer never feels bogged down with technical jargon and gets to focus on the personal histories (which I found to be quite interesting and absorbing).

Note that there are no subtitles but there is closed-captioning.

Finally the DVD set (released in 2002) has one extra: an interview with the director.

In conclusion, this documentary proves that you don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!!

(2001; 4 hours, 15 min excluding end material and end credits; 5 episodes; 7 chapters per episode; 3 discs; wide screen, PBS)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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