The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery

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by Sam Kean
     
 

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From the author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival

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Overview

From the author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims' personalities. An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, pedophile, or liar. But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes. With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain's secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/28/2014
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)
From the Publisher
"A science journalist with a flair for words...[Kean's] language is fluid and accessible, even for the science-challenged." -- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

"Sam Kean's tribute to the periodic table, "The Disappearing Spoon," was heaped with praise a couple of years ago, and a similar reception awaits his book about genetics and its effects on our past, present and future." -- MSNBC.com

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-02
Neurosurgery has come a long way since the 16th century, and this series of historical anecdotes traces the many people who, often by suffering horrific injuries, allowed the study and treatment of brain trauma to evolve and become the sophisticated field it is today. For centuries, brain injuries have been documented and analyzed as doctors attempted to comprehend how the brain functions. How is it that a man can survive a spike through his skull, and yet his peer drops dead after a seemingly minor bump? In tale after tale, best-selling author Kean (The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, 2012, etc.) provides a fascinating, and at times gloriously gory, look at how early efforts in neurosurgery were essentially a medical guessing game. Those who survived the wounds or seizures were often irrevocably changed as new personality traits emerged, giving doctors clues about how the brain altered itself in a struggle to function despite trauma. Major discoveries about how the brain works were borne from inspecting damaged brains in the context of the injured person's symptoms. For example, facts emerged about how the left and right hemispheres complement each other, how language follows different neural circuits depending on if it's spoken or read (interestingly, many people recovering language skills after an injury are able to sing song lyrics but not speak in regular conversation), and how memory, sense perception and facial recognition are embedded deep in the astonishingly complex circuitry of the brain. How else would early surgeons learn about this complexity but by dissecting the brain itself? Entertaining and quotable, Kean's writing is sharp, and each individual story brings the history of neuroscience to life. Compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316182348
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
05/06/2014
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
185,521
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Sam Kean is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist's Thumb. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, and New Scientist, and has been featured on NPR's "Radiolab" and "All Things Considered."

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The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Mary DeKok Blowers for Readers' Favorite The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery is by Sam Kean. This book begins with the work of a doctor, Andreas Vesalius, who studied the anatomy of gladiators when they were injured, since it was illegal to dissect humans and the gladiators frequently provided severe injuries exposing internal structure. Several other high profile cases are mentioned. When King Henri of France was gouged by a lance in his eye in a jousting match in 1559, a large splinter was removed from his eye, but several others were unable to be removed. He was treated by Parette, who often evaluated the brains of decapitated criminals, sometimes finding swollen and dead tissue, now known as concussions. Henri’s headache increased, which told Parette the blood vessels had ruptured and the blood was expanding in the skull. He finally died of a hemorrhage. At that time an autopsy was allowed. The shards from the lance that could not be removed were found to have penetrated the brain, and large blood clots were discovered that had expanded in the skull and caused Henri’s ultimate demise. Charles Guiteau believed he was told by God to kill President Garfield. He bought a pistol and determined to kill him in church. He shot Garfield at the train station, first nicking him and then hitting his lower back. A Doctor Bliss was assigned to care for Garfield and he subsequently released tidbits of updates to the press. Garfield eventually stabilized and he relocated to New Jersey, but later died of an infection. It was upon an autopsy of Guiteau, after his death sentence was carried out, that his brain was found to have certain abnormalities. Titled in reference to the jousting accident of King Henri, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons contains many other cases which point out the ingenious adaptability of the brain to unfortunate circumstances. James Holman, though totally blind after extensive exploration of Siberia, developed a method of echolocation by using a cane to understand and navigate his surroundings. You will certainly learn more about the anatomy of the brain through Sam Kean’s discussion of dendrites, neurons, and synapses.
kalevala More than 1 year ago
Third Sam Kean book I have read. Not disappointed as he makes neuroscience interesting and funny. Also recommend The Disappearing Spoon, the periodic table has never been so fascinating! And The Violinists Thumb does wonders with DNA and genetics! These 3 books would be excellent reading for beginning science classes in each area!
efm More than 1 year ago
Loved all the amazing facts on neural anatomy I learned in this book, amazing factual accounts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago