Early studies of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike -- strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, horrendous accidents -- and see how victims coped. Read more...
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Early studies of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike -- strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, horrendous accidents -- and see how victims coped. In many cases their survival was miraculous, if puzzling. Observers were amazed by the transformations that took place when different parts of the brain were destroyed, altering victims' personalities. Parents suddenly couldn't recognize their own children. Pillars of the community became pathological liars. Some people couldn't speak but could still sing.
In "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons," Sam Kean travels through time with stories of neurological curiosities: phantom limbs, Siamese twin brains, viruses that eat patients' memories, blind people who see through their tongues. He weaves these narratives together with prose that makes the pages fly by, to create a story of discovery that reaches back to the 1500s and the high-profile jousting accident that inspired this book's title.* With the lucid, masterful explanations and razor-sharp wit his fans have come to expect, Kean explores the brain's secret passageways and recounts the forgotten tales of the ordinary people whose struggles, resilience, and deep humanity made neuroscience possible.
*"The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons" refers to the case of French king Henri II, who in 1559 was lanced through the skull during a joust, resulting in one of the most significant cases in neuroscience history. For hundreds of years scientists have gained important lessons from traumatic accidents and illnesses, and such misfortunes still represent their greatest resource for discovery.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-04-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Science writer Kean (The Disappearing Spoon) delves into the strange ways we've learned about the workings of our brains, rejuvenating with invigorating detail anecdotes that otherwise receive only brief textbook mention. Even his organization, with each chapter devoted to a particular scientific discovery, is assembled to be most effectively processed by the brain and its capacities for chunking smaller units of information. Reading this collection is like touring a museum of neuroscience's most dramatic anomalies, each chapter taking us to a different place and time. We see how the death of King Henry II of France initiated a curiosity for anatomy that persists today, learn that some of the most innovative theories of neuron function came from studying frog hearts, and how Paul Broca discovered the brain's "first language node." Of course, no collection of science's most enlightening maladies is complete without mention of Phineas Gage's famous incident with a tamping iron, but here it is rendered afresh. Indeed, Kean's colloquial language and intimate voice bring all of this series of mini-histories to life—all of which are sure to stimulate a wide range of brains. (May)