Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan - Book Review

I recently read "The Dragons of Eden - Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence" by Carl Sagan. I was inspired by his more famous book on the universe called "Cosmos" which I had read last year. I would personally rate this book more interesting and insightful than Cosmos. Cosmos was expected to be a great book as it was a product of one of the great space scientists ever. Human intelligence and neuroscience had never been Sagan's area of research, which he himself acknowledges in the book. In terms of explaining the basic human brain function, Sagan has topped even most of the present day neuroscience researchers.

Though I have a masters degree through research in neuroscience (Hippocampus, in particular), I never had the access to the amount of in-depth knowledge which Sagan provides in this book. I have developed a new sense of love for neuroscience and human intelligence after reading this book. Sagan, being a strong supporter of evolution, provides ample evidences to support his causes. The beauty about Sagan's writing is that he accepts as mere speculations those ideas which he himself is not confident. This is indeed the true character of some of the top notch researchers, whose percentage is sadly dwindling over the years.

I was amazed how Sagan uses the mapping of the entire evolution of universe to a single calendar year and explains evolution. Sagan provides credit to top researchers wherever it is due, which makes the book even more credible. I liked the sections of interaction of right and left brain hemispheres through corpus callosum. I could relate such ideas with the popular neuroscience texts I read over the past 6 years. Sagan even talks about the brains of other species and how the human intelligence is more to do with the evolution of a larger cortex region. Sagan also provides an analysis of what happens when one dreams and digresses at many places without getting the reader bored.

This book is a real treasure for those who are interested in understanding the evolution of human intelligence through the words of the best popular science writer. I have already ordered for reading his another masterpiece, "The Demon Haunted World", which exposes pseudo and fake science. Sagan condemns such fake irrational ideas proclaimed as science towards the end in "The Dragons of Eden". I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in gaining knowledge of basic neuroscience, cognition, and evolution. I can guarantee that it will be an once in a lifetime experience of tracking own existence at present. This book is a must read for people of any age who can understand basic English.


Naveen Shankar said...

I remember you had recommended some other book on neuroscience as a starter. But after reading this blog I might start with this book.
will attack your library the next time I meet you :)

Shanmuganathan Raman said...

@Naveen Yes da. This book is truly mind-blowing. Now ordered "contact" and "demon-haunted world" by Carl Sagan. :)

Sandeep C E said...

Hi Shanmuga,
I heartily recommend another writer for similar topics: Richard Dawkins. He may be a biologist but he writes superbly, for the general audience. One of his books on evolution - 'The Selfish Gene' is wonderful. He also has a book on debunking pseudoscience and describing the beauty of real science - 'Unweaving the Rainbow'. Do give them a shot if you find the time !

Shanmuganathan Raman said...

@Sandeep Sure. I will read them. You may lookup my goodreads profile at
and add me as your friend there.