The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
By Sam Kean
Little Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316182348, 416pp.
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Early studies of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike -- strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, horrendous accidents -- and see how victims coped. In many cases their survival was miraculous, if puzzling. Observers were amazed by the transformations that took place when different parts of the brain were destroyed, altering victims' personalities. Parents suddenly couldn't recognize their own children. Pillars of the community became pathological liars. Some people couldn't speak but could still sing.
In "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons," Sam Kean travels through time with stories of neurological curiosities: phantom limbs, Siamese twin brains, viruses that eat patients' memories, blind people who see through their tongues. He weaves these narratives together with prose that makes the pages fly by, to create a story of discovery that reaches back to the 1500s and the high-profile jousting accident that inspired this book's title.* With the lucid, masterful explanations and razor-sharp wit his fans have come to expect, Kean explores the brain's secret passageways and recounts the forgotten tales of the ordinary people whose struggles, resilience, and deep humanity made neuroscience possible.
*"The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons" refers to the case of French king Henri II, who in 1559 was lanced through the skull during a joust, resulting in one of the most significant cases in neuroscience history. For hundreds of years scientists have gained important lessons from traumatic accidents and illnesses, and such misfortunes still represent their greatest resource for discovery.
Praise for The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons:
"This is Sam Kean's finest work yet, an entertaining and offbeat history of the brain populated with mad scientists, deranged criminals, geniuses, and wretched souls. The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is one of those books that will have you following your friends around, reading passages out loud, until they snatch the book away from you and read it for themselves. Good luck getting it back."—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist
"Put your Netflix queue on hold. Sam Kean's The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons will command your full attention from the first page. It's not just an engaging guide to mysteries of existence; it's compelling story-telling for anyone with a taste for the bizarre and metaphysical."—William Poundstone, author of Rock Breaks Scissors
"In tale after tale, best-selling author Kean provides a fascinating, and at times gloriously gory, look at how early efforts in neurosurgery were essentially a medical guessing game.... Entertaining and quotable, Kean's writing is sharp, and each individual story brings the history of neuroscience to life. Compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun."—Kirkus
"Strokes, seizures, accidents: if they don't kill, they can traumatize the brain so badly that an individual's personality can be significantly changed. But, explains New York Times best-selling author of the terrific The Violinist's Thumb, early neuroscientists saw such traumas as an opportunity to study the brain's wondrous workings."—Library Journal, "Barbara's Picks"
Praise for The Violinist's Thumb:
Named one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2012; one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year; and a Publishers Weekly Editors Pick
"Kean's accessible genetic overview, written for the layman, is often as simple and elegant as a double helix." -- Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly
"Kean is one of America's smartest and most charming science writers, and his new book could be perfect for summer readers who prefer some substance with their fun." -- Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
"The wonderful thing about Kean...is his ability to focus on a spiraling narrative while he climbs up the double-helix ladder in this history of genetics, remaining more of less at the center of the rungs while he goes from the struggles of Mendel and Miescher to the Human Genome Project....It is a handsome story." -- Jimmy So, Daily Beast
"The DNA molecule, Kean asserts, is the 'grand narrative of human existence'-and he boldly sets out to tell the tale, not only explaining genetics and its scientific history but linking Mendel's pea shoots to the evolution of early humans....He's crafted a lively read packed with unforgettable details." -- Sarah Zhang, Discover
"Science is made fun whenever best-selling author Kean...is narrating." -- Susannah Cahalan, New York Post
"Sam Kean educates readers about a facet of science with wonderfully witty prose and enthralling anecdotes....Kean's thoughtful, humorous book is a joy to read." -- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)