In 1997, a team of neuroscientists in Parma, Italy, began doing research on neurological responses of Macaca Monkeys. Electrodes were planted in the monkeys' brains, in an area labeled F5, located in the premotor cortex — "that part of the neocortex concerned with planning, selecting, and executing actions". The neuroscientists were monitoring how the monkeys' neurons responded when the monkeys made "actions of the hands, including grasping, holding, and tearing, and, most fundamental of all, bringing objects — food — to the mouth". Very soon the researchers found that when the monkeys observed the actions that they were being monitored for (e.g. picking up a cup of coffee) their neurons fired the exact same pattern of responses as if they were executing the actions. The same neurons tagged for study in the monkeys were now mirroring the actions of the human researchers.
From this extraordinary variant of monkey-see-monkey-do has arisen a very exciting transformation in cognitive science, a revolutionary theory still very much in development that is profoundly altering and expanding our understanding of how humans learn from, interact with, and understand each other. Marco Iacoboni, MD, PhD (a psychiatrist and native Italian), was with the Parma team from the beginning. His book, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others, is a detailed and comprehensive account of the mirror neuron theory for the general public. The book is structured around a long series of peer-review research studies that document the step-by-step development and expansion of the mirror neuron theory. Iacoboni's exceptional authorial accomplishment is the ease — indeed the charismatic fluency — with which he converts the heady and specialized peer-review findings of this burgeoning science into accessible, warm-blooded prose.
There are caveats for the audiobook listener. The implications of these studies are immense, and as one peer-review study follows another, and as their implications expand and compound, well, the listener must adjust. The first group of studies is easy to take in and understand. But as they become more involved and their meanings ramify, and as Iacoboni applies deeper and more profound conceptual conclusions, the content becomes quite challenging. Deep thought is required and diligent listening essential, if one is to mine the richness of this extraordinary audiobook. Peter Ganim nails the exceedingly difficult narrative balance of increasingly hard science with warm and entertaining presentation, the hard tack details of the science with the engaging personality of Iacoboni. Mirroring People represents an exceptional test for a narrator. Ganim aces it. —David Chasey