The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery

Kean, Sam

Book - 2014
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
Grand Central Pub
The author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon reveals the secret inner workings of the brain through strange but true stories.

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.

Baker & Taylor
Offers tales of victims affected by brain injuries and diseases, early studies of the function of the brain, and the history of neuroscience.

& Taylor

The best-selling author of The Disappearing Spoon discusses the history of neuroscience as described through opportunities to study the brain by those suffering from terrible misfortunes including strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, horrible accidents and lobotomies. 75,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York :, Little, Brown and Company,, 2014
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780316182348
Branch Call Number: 617.4802 K
Characteristics: 407 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Monday, June 30.

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Jan 28, 2015
  • rationallady rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Kean covers a lot of the cases examined by Oliver Sachs and others but in a fresh, sometimes irreverent way.

Jul 15, 2014
  • delfon rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This is somewhat similar to 'the man who thought his wife was a hat'; but the explanations and language are far more enlightening.
Neurosurgeons got their start in Medieval France so says this author; with the death of Henry 11.
We are treated to many instances where small changes in brain function, disease, force or whatever -- lead to loss of functionality. However, logic is but emotions with experience. Lots of details of scientists, some not so pretty. Epilepsy, memory, emotions, how do we do it? Much of interest here in; and a really interesting and hard to put down tome.

May 22, 2014

As a psychology major in the late 70's and early 80's it seemed that every textbook for every class included the story of Phineas Gage. He was the guy who had a tamping iron accidentally blasted through his cheek and out the top of his head while working on a railroad explosives crew in 1848. There were always illustrations, daguerreotypes, and a gruesome description of his injury. (As I read the Wikipedia page about him right now, I get a little sparkly thing at the back of my eyeballs, and I'm not easily grossed out.) As students, what always blew our disco-studded minds was that Gage lived. Not only lived, but seemed mostly normal. However, as we all know, "normal" has a lot of gray matter near the edges.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is Kean's newest book. His first one, The Disappearing Spoon was super good, and very easy to read even if one may have gotten a C in high school chemistry. This one promises to be just as good, thanks in part to Phineas Gage. And I like brains better than the periodic table anyway.


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Kean, Sam
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