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THE BRAIN DEFENSE

MURDER IN MANHATTAN AND THE DAWN OF NEUROSCIENCE IN AMERICA'S COURTROOMS

A thoroughly researched, clearly presented book that suggests that imprecise brain science will become increasingly more...

American Bar Association Journal editor Davis (Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office, 2007, etc.) engagingly explores how sophisticated brain studies might help explain the causes of violent crimes.

The author uses an unlikely New York City murder as the connecting link in his wide-ranging inquiry into “broken brains” that might leave criminals helpless to control violent urges. On Jan. 7, 1991, 65-year-old Herbert Weinstein, a mild-mannered, respected business executive with “a clean record and no history of violent behavior,” argued with his wife before knocking her unconscious and throwing her out of their apartment window to the street 12 stories below. Though Weinstein confessed to the homicide, he could not account for his uncharacteristic rage. His lawyer decided to order scans of Weinstein’s brain, a revolutionary tactic at the time; the scans showed a cyst the size of an orange. At that juncture, Weinstein’s lawyer, the prosecutor, the judge, and highly specialized neuroscientists had to decide whether the cyst provided a complete explanation for the murder, only a partial explanation, or was simply an extraneous factor. As the well-written narrative unfolds, Davis returns to the Weinstein case frequently. Amid the chapters about the murder, the author skillfully interweaves accounts of other alleged “broken brain” cases, research battles among neuroscientists about how to interpret brain injury data, and inquiries into specific types of brain damage—for instance, from football and other contact sports or from military combat. Perhaps the most crucial question revolving around broken brain research is whether the injuries invalidate free will. Could Weinstein have controlled his rage during the altercation with his wife, or did the damage to Weinstein’s capacities from the cyst render him unable to exercise free will?

A thoroughly researched, clearly presented book that suggests that imprecise brain science will become increasingly more common as evidence in criminal cases.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-633-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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