Bailey on Books: What is actually going on inside?


Many of us were introduced to neuroscience in 1997 by The Human Brain, A Guided Tour, Susan Greenfield’s ground-breaking second publication about the brain. Few of us will be surprised to learn that despite the controversy some of her prognostications have aroused, she continues to provide valuable insights into what has now become a stand-alone science. And her latest treatise provides more of the same.

I am referring to A Day in the Life of the Brain, The Neuroscience of Consciousness from Dawn to Dusk, Susan’s latest attempt to make us more familiar with how our brains work in most circumstances during an average day and night.

Following more than two decades of unremitting exploration of the workings of the brain, Susan is excellently placed to offer some highly plausible thoughts about consciousness. The Private Life of The Brain was a prequel to her latest attempt to help define consciousness and now she has added measurably to our understanding of one of neuroscience’s greatest challenges. And defining the ultimate in this regard is something she continues to investigate with her colleagues in her laboratory at Oxford.

Following the form of her earlier books, she divides A Day in the Life into clearly defined chapters that represent specific daily activities, thoughts and problems. But before that, and on the very first page of her preface, she recalls disavowing her science studies, instead choosing Latin, Greek, ancient history and maths. She writes: “. . . the essence of one’s own individuality seemed to be so much better met by history and literature”.

As with so much in this book, that’s a thought worth pondering. However, via psychology and physiology she moved back to science and eventually to her natural home of neuroscience and the study of neurodegenerative disorders.

All this shows that she is no ordinary neuroscientist, a fact underlined in A Day in the Life as she forensically examines and largely refutes most of the present notions of consciousness in an entertaining style that will engage both novices and those who live permanently in her rarified world. Outlining the complexities we face during an average day and how our brains both initiate and cope with our actions, Susan explores what we know of how we think and provides a comprehensive guide to our further understanding of consciousness.


Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE is a Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University. A Day in the Life of the Brain, The Neuroscience of Consciousness from Dawn to Dusk is published by Allen Lane.

Susan Greenfield will be speaking at the London School of Economics on Thursday, 3rd November 2016, 6:30pm-8:00pm. For details of this free event go to:


Books editor John Bailey was for many years one of London’s best known journalists and spent most of his career in what was Fleet Street. He is an avid bibliophile and record collector, champion advocate for press freedom, and a student of history whose guided tours of London are known to and fondly recalled by exhausted walkers on all five continents.

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