Book Review: The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

I love men.  They are wonderful, fascinating, foreign creatures.  I don’t pretend to understand them for a moment.  To me their priorities seem all wrong, their sensibilities seriously underdeveloped at times, and their methods of going through everyday life highly questionable.  Yet as a writer I need to understand them at least to a certain extent in order to create realistic three-dimensional heroes for my stories.  What’s a girl to do?

Let me tell you, this book, The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D. was a revelation.  Dr. Brizendine has decades of experience as a neuropsychiatrist.   At the same time she knows how to write and translate what she knows from the technical side of her profession to the common, curious lay reader like myself.  You’d think that books about neuropsychiatry would be dry and chocked full of fifty-cent words.  Not so!  The Male Brain and its predecessor The Female Brain (which I’ll get to in a moment) are as easy to read and understand as a novel.  This is probably why she was criticized for making neuropsychiatry into “pop-psychiatry” but the facts are the facts and just because something is accessible doesn’t mean it isn’t dead-on accurate.

In reading The Male Brain I learned things that I just had no clue about before.  Andy how would I?  I’m a woman.  Each of her books is organized by chapter, starting with pre-birth brain development and infant brain development, then moving through brain development at different stages of life, childhood, puberty, young adulthood, fatherhood, and old age.  She follows the same track for The Female Brain.  In each book you get a full sense of the instinctual impulses and chemical processes that create uniquely male or uniquely female thought.  And there are a LOT of things I didn’t know about how men think.

Did you know that girl babies will focus on people’s faces but boy babies are much more interested in moving objects?  Or that from early childhood boys’ play is designed to determine and maintain hierarchy within the group?  Or that when men play team sports their testosterone levels increase and the part of their brain that controls critical thinking and judgment skills actually turns off?  (which explains why the guys I score cricket matches for can turn into total douches during a game)

The Female Brain is just as vital a resource as The Male Brain.  Yes, I knew a lot of the stuff in this book already, but in reading about much of it I had an “Oh! That’s why I do that!” reaction.  I was fascinated by the discussion of how social networking and friends groups are essential to proper female brain development, how women suffer physically and chemically if they do NOT have girl group time, and how forming cliques (or clicks as some people call them) and deliberately excluding one or two girls is an evolutionary way of competing for mates.  Of course, I was the one who was excluded from those groups as an adolescent, BIG TIME, so it as doubly fascinating for me to read about all of the legitimate ways that damaged my brain’s growth in those years.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that all women should read The Male Brain to get a clearer understanding of the male creatures in their lives.  And all men should read The Female Brain to come to a similar understanding.  My best friend and I read The Female Brain at around the same time and were discussing it with my brother, and the look of sheer surprise on his face as we talked about things that were obvious to us that Dr. Brizendine had discussed cracked us both up.  He had no idea.  Now he does.  But I also think these books are important for writers to dive into because they can help you add depth to your characters.  It’s hard sometimes to write a character of the opposite sex and we need to have as much information as we can to go on.  The Male Brain was great for a single lady like me, but I can see how it would have a double benefit for my married writer friends.

Well, this turned out to be a big old informational post.  I’d love to hear what questions you all have about the opposite sex that have always perplexed you.  Why do they do that?  I bet Dr. Brizendine knows.

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