Books  General Natural History  History of Science 

Animal Electricity: How We Learned That the Body and Brain are Electric Machines

By: Robert B Campenot (Author)

340 pages, 28 b/w photos, 31 b/w illustrations

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Feb 2016 | #225551 | ISBN-13: 9780674736818
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.95 $37/€34 approx

About this book

Like all cellular organisms, humans run on electricity. Slight imbalances of electric charge across cell membranes result in sensation, movement, awareness, and thinking – nearly everything we associate with being alive. Robert Campenot offers a comprehensive overview of animal electricity, examining its physiological mechanisms as well as the experimental discoveries that form the basis for our modern understanding of nervous systems across the animal kingdom.

Cells work much like batteries. Concentration gradients of sodium and potassium cause these ions to flow in and out of cells by way of protein channels, creating tiny voltages across the cell membrane. The cellular mechanisms that switch these ion currents on and off drive all the functions associated with animal nervous systems, from nerve impulses and heartbeats to the 600-volt shocks produced by electric eels.

Campenot's examination of the nervous system is presented in the context of ideas as they evolved in the past, as well as today's research and its future implications. The discussion ranges from the pre-Renaissance notion of animal spirits and Galvani's eighteenth-century discovery of animal electricity, to modern insights into how electrical activity produces learning and how electrical signals in the cortex can be used to connect the brains of paralyzed individuals to limbs or prosthetic devices. Campenot provides the necessary scientific background to make Animal Electricity highly accessible for general readers while conveying much about the process of scientific discovery.

"Dr. Campenot's writing is clear and effective and conveys the excitement of scientific discovery and the fascinating complexity of the living organism."
– Jonathan Dostrovsky, Department of Physiology and Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto

"A beautifully written, authoritative, and thoroughly engaging account of the electrical properties of nerve cells and what they accomplish. All of us – but especially students – will be reminded of the way progress understanding the nervous system actually unfolds, today's hyperbole notwithstanding."
– Dale Purves, M.D., Geller Professor of Neurobiology, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences



1. Animal Electricity
2. A World of Cells, Molecules, and Atoms
3. The Animal Battery
4. Hodgkin and Huxley before the War
5. The Mystery of Nerve Conduction Explained
6. Heart to Heart
7. Nerve to Muscle
8. Use It or Lose It
9. Broadcasting in the Volume Conductor
10. The Bionic Century


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Robert B. Campenot is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Alberta.

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