The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute Over How Nerves Communicate

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Overview

Like the cracking of the genetic code and the creation of the atomic bomb, the discovery of how the brain's neurons work is one of the fundamental scientific developments of the twentieth century. The discovery of neurotransmitters revolutionized the way we think about the brain and what it means to be human yet few people know how they were discovered, the scientists involved, or the fierce controversy about whether they even existed. The War of the Soups and the Sparks tells the saga of the dispute between the pharmacologists, who had uncovered the first evidence that nerves communicate by releasing chemicals, and the neurophysiologists, experts on the nervous system, who dismissed the evidence and remained committed to electrical explanations.

The protagonists of this story are Otto Loewi and Henry Dale, who received Nobel Prizes for their work, and Walter Cannon, who would have shared the prize with them if he had not been persuaded to adopt a controversial theory (how that happened is an important part of this history). Valenstein sets his story of scientific discovery against the backdrop of two world wars and examines the fascinating lives of several scientists whose work was affected by the social and political events of their time. He recounts such stories as Loewi's arrest by Nazi storm troopers and Dale's efforts at helping key scientists escape Germany.

The War of the Soups and the Sparks reveals how science and scientists work. Valenstein describes the observations and experiments that led to the discovery of neurotransmitters and sheds light on what determines whether a novel concept will gain acceptance among the scientific community. His work also explains the immense importance of Loewi, Dale, and Cannon's achievements in our understanding of the human brain and the way mental illnesses are conceptualized and treated.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries - J. A. Hewlett

An engaging story of scientific discovery and debate that spanned the two world wars. Highly recommended.

Medical History - EM Tansey

One of the most riveting stories of modern neuroscience.

Nature - Charles Stevens

Valenstein's book... is a readable and instructive history of one of neuroscience's most important scientific disputes.

Nature Neuroscience - Nicholas C. Spitzer

A fun, fast read, covering more than the title implies, and it can substantially broaden the modern reader's thinking.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries - J.A. Hewlett
An engaging story of scientific discovery and debate that spanned the two world wars. Highly recommended.
New England Journal of Medicine - Elizabeth I. Martin & Charles B. Nemeroof

The War of the Soups and the Sparks provides insight into an important time in political history and the history of neuroscience.

Science - Arvid Carlsson

Valenstein's well-narrated account of one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of medical research can be strongly recommended.

American Scientist - Susan Lanzoni

Scientific style and personality loom large.

Cerebrum - Jerome Kagan

Masterly account... beautifully crafted monograph.

PsycCRITIQUES - James P. Schmidt

Valenstein's book tells a fascinating story in a lively way.

Science Books & Films - Melinda Kelley

Provides a lively and detailed account of the sceintific perserverance that was necessary to change their thinking.

Journal of the American Medical Association - Frank R. Freemon

An interesting book that ably covers an important era in brain science.

Nature Medicine - Eva Chmielnicki

A rewarding read for anyone who marvels at the wonders of scientific discovery.

FASEB Journal - Diane C. Zelman

Valenstein takes the reader on fascinating excursions into the science of the early 1900s.

Medical History - E.M. Tansey
One of the most riveting stories of modern neuroscience.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Donald M. O'Malley

A treasure trove.

Nature
Valenstein's book... is a readable and instructive history of one of neuroscience's most important scientific disputes.

— Charles Stevens

Nature Neuroscience
A fun, fast read, covering more than the title implies, and it can substantially broaden the modern reader's thinking.

— Nicholas C. Spitzer

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

An engaging story of scientific discovery and debate that spanned the two world wars. Highly recommended.

— J. A. Hewlett

New England Journal of Medicine
The War of the Soups and the Sparks provides insight into an important time in political history and the history of neuroscience.

— Elizabeth I. Martin & Charles B. Nemeroof

Science
Valenstein's well-narrated account of one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of medical research can be strongly recommended.

— Arvid Carlsson

American Scientist
Scientific style and personality loom large.

— Susan Lanzoni

Cerebrum
Masterly account... beautifully crafted monograph.

— Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.

PsycCRITIQUES
Valenstein's book tells a fascinating story in a lively way.

— James P. Schmidt

Science Books & Films
Provides a lively and detailed account of the sceintific perserverance that was necessary to change their thinking.

— Melinda Kelley

Journal of the American Medical Association
An interesting book that ably covers an important era in brain science.

— Frank R. Freemon, MD, PhD

Nature Medicine
A rewarding read for anyone who marvels at the wonders of scientific discovery.

— Eva Chmielnicki

FASEB Journal
Valenstein takes the reader on fascinating excursions into the science of the early 1900s.

— Diane C. Zelman

Medical History
One of the most riveting stories of modern neuroscience.

— EM Tansey

Quarterly Review of Biology
A treasure trove.

— Donald M. O'Malley

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

An engaging story of scientific discovery and debate that spanned the two world wars. Highly recommended.

— J. A. Hewlett

Choice
An engaging story of scientific discovery and debate that spanned the two world wars. Highly recommended.

— J. A. Hewlett

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231135894
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 818,754
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Elliot S. Valenstein is emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan and the author of Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health and Great and Desperate Cures.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

1 Setting the stage : the neuron doctrine and synpase 1
2 The autonomic nervous system : testing drugs on visceral organs and skeletal muscles 7
3 An idea ahead of its time : the first hint at the existence of chemical neurotransmitters 18
4 Henry Dale : laying the foundation 29
5 Otto Loewi : an inspired dream and a speculative leap 51
6 The road to the Nobel prize 68
7 Walter Cannon : a near miss by America's most renowned physiologist 89
8 The war of the soups and the sparks 121
9 Lowei, Dale, and Cannon : the later years 135
10 Brain neurotransmitters : a new continent to explore 157
11 Epilogue : some final reflections 181
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