DEFENDING THE CAVEWOMAN by Harold Klawans

DEFENDING THE CAVEWOMAN

and Other Tales of Evolutionary Neurology
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KIRKUS REVIEW

More well-told tales from the files of neurologist Klawans (Life, Death, and in Between, 1992, etc.), this time illustrating his views on the brain’s evolution. What distinguishes our species, Klawans notes, is the continued development of the human brain after birth. Accounts of his brain-damaged patients reveal characteristics of this unique organ, its early plasticity, and its susceptibility to environmental influences. The brain’s window of opportunity for acquiring language is revealed in one story of a five-year-old child treated for seizures that would have left her unable to speak if they had continued until she was twelve. Klawans uses the case of a patient suffering from carbon-monoxide poisoning to demonstrate how the biology of an illiterate person’s brain differs from that of a person who has learned symbolic communication, and the example of Maestro Rota, whose stroke has left him almost without speech but still able to conduct an orchestra, to raise the question of how and when the brain acquires musical abilities. Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Kreutzfeldt-Jakob, and mad-cow disease—all provide Klawans with material for exploring the human brain and asking how the environment human beings have shaped plays a crucial role in its postnatal development. As his title suggests, Klawans wants to credit not our early ancestor man the hunter for the expansion and dominance of the human species, but rather woman the nurturer, who taught her dependent young, with developing brains, what they needed to know for survival, a task that depended on symbolic language and led in time to the evolution of brains selected for the acquisition of language. Readers of Oliver Sacks, who turns up in one of Klawans’s stories, will find much to savor here, as will fans of Berton Rouche’s tales of medical detection. Like them, Klawans is crisp and clear in his descriptions and knows how to hold the general reader’s interest while imparting scientific information. Engrossing stuff.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04831-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000




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