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.