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The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery Paperback – June 9, 2015
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One of Amazon's Best Books of the Year: Science
One of The A.V. Club's Best Books of 2014
A Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist: Nonfiction
"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
"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"
"Dueling Neurosurgeons will confirm Kean's already-solid reputation as a writer who can make anything understandable and interesting.[...] Although hugely entertaining (perhaps especially so in this era of vampire and zombie fascination), Kean's book contains amazingly clear details about our brains."―Winnipeg Free Press
About the Author
The Disappearing Spoon was a runner-up for the Royal Society of London's book of the year for 2010, and The Violinist's Thumb and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons were nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2013 and 2015, as well as the AAAS/Subaru SB&F prize.
His work has appeared in the Best American Nature and Science Writing, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, Slate, Mental Floss, and other publications, and he has been featured on NPR's "Radiolab," "All Things Considered," and "Fresh Air."
- Publisher : Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (June 9, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316182354
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316182355
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.13 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #67,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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"The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons" is an excellent collection of stories in neuroscience. Best-selling author and gifted science writer, Sam Kean, provides readers with a real gem. Kean's great eye for captivating stories about the brain and his expertise in retelling these stories end up helping the readers gain an understanding of how the brain works. This fascinating 377-page book is broken out into the following five parts: Part I. Gross Anatomy; Part II. Cells, Senses; Circuits Part III. Body and Brain; Part IV. Beliefs and Delusions; and Part V. Consciousness.
1. Science writing at its best. Kean is climbing the echelon of premier popular science authors.
2. Neuroscience is one of my favorite topics and thrilled that a gifted storyteller handled this book.
3. Great format and approach. Each chapter covers an intriguing story about how the brain works yet it flows beautifully as a whole.
4. Plenty of diagrams of parts of the brain and photos that complement this wonderful narrative.
5. Kean excels at keeping it real. He doesn't oversell what we know and keeps the science well grounded in reality.
6. Wonderful gift of narration that includes a well weaved story based on history and good science.
7. Once again, the impact of religion on science rears its head. "In the early 1200s, the Catholic church had declared that no proper Christians, including physicians, could shed blood; physicians therefore looked down upon surgeons as butchers."
8. Love how theories of neuroscience are introduced some are ultimately debunked and others have staying impact. "These findings led Cajal to propose the "neuron doctrine," one of the most important discoveries ever in neuroscience. In brief, Cajal's neurons were not continuous, but had tiny gaps between them. And they transmitted information in one direction only: from dendrite to cell body to axon."
9. The analysis of famous assassins' brains that lead to interesting discoveries.
10. Sometimes asking the right questions are as important as the answers. "Sorting out cause and effect is tricky with brain chemistry: does depression cause changes in brain chemicals, or do changes in brain chemicals cause depression? The street probably runs both ways. But the balance of evidence does suggest that loneliness, isolation, and a sense of helplessness can all deplete neurotransmitters--can poison the soup and sap vital ingredients."
11. Interesting look at how neurons work. "Overall, just as a wagon wheel will carve a rut into the road after repeated journeys, repeated neuron firings will carve ruts into the brain that make signals much more likely to follow some neural tracks than others."
12. How vision works. "In fact, our vision is so biased toward movement that we don't technically see stationary objects at all. To see something stationary, our brains have to scribble our eyes very subtly over its surface. Experiments have even proved that if you artificially stabilize an image on the retina with a combination of special contact lenses and microelectronics, the image will vanish."
13. A look at how the brain maps the body.
14. An interesting look at a number of interesting diseases involving the brain. "They proposed that kuru, scrapie, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob--which all cause "spongiform" brain damage and can all lie dormant for long periods before roaring awake--were caused by a new class of microbes, which they dubbed `slow viruses.'"
15. Excellent examples of specific damages to the brain and its impact. "But around age ten she began suffering from Urbach-Wiethe disease, a rare disorder that petrifies and kills amygdala cells. Within a few years she had two "black holes" where her amygdalae should have been. She hasn't felt a lick of fear since."
16. Many revelations in this book, here is one of my favorites: "Temporal lobe lesions can flip people's sexual orientations from gay to straight (or vice versa), or redirect their sexual appetites toward inappropriate things: common side effects of Klüver-Bucy include zoophilia, coprophilia, pedophilia, and -philias so idiosyncratic they don't have names."
17. A look at what happens when brain processes go awry. "Some delusions run so deep that they fray the very fabric of the victim's universe. With so-called Alice in Wonderland syndrome--a side effect of migraines or seizures--space and time get warped in unsettling ways."
18. The difference between Broca and Wernicke's area. "Generally speaking, a broken Broca's area knocks out speech production, while a wrecked Wernicke's area impairs speech comprehension."
19. By far the best retelling of the over told story of Phineas Gage (it's practically in every book of popular neuroscience). He debunks some myths pertaining to this story, which I found to be quite refreshing.
20. Works cited and so much more...
1. Very little not to like about this book. I would have added a timeline or a table of the greatest contributors of neuroscience as a nice additional bonus.
2. Kean stays away from controversial issues. There is very little on intelligence and as I recall nothing on gender differences. He touches upon social justice with regards to crime and punishment but I sense he holds back.
3. I loved the retelling of Phineas Gage's story but I felt Kean could have done better with the topic of consciousness.
In summary, what a fun way to learn about how the brain works; this is a beautifully written and well-researched book that is a joy to read. Fascinating stories about ordinary people who went through extraordinary circumstances and Kean retells their stories with mastery. A high recommendation! Get this book.
Further suggestions: " The Disappearing Spoon " and " The Violinist's Thumb " by the same author, " The Mind's Eye " and " Hallucinations " by Oliver Sacks", " The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind " by Michio Kaku, "Braintrust" by Patricia S. Churchland, " The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature " by Steven Pinker, " Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time " and " The Believing Brain " by Michael Shermer, " Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain " by Michael S. Gazzaniga, " Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior " by Leonard Mlodinow, "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human" by V.S. Ramachandran, "Incognito" by David Eagleman, and "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)" by Carol Tavris.
Kean takes complicated information and he doesn't 'dumb' it down, he just presents it in an easily understood format, and with a significant amount of humor. He actually confirms my thinking that most textbooks are written for the peer group of the author, rather than to make concepts accessible to students. The book starts with cells and works up to the different lobes of the brain, and then continues on to the brain as a whole. In each section, Kean includes stories of people who undergo brain disorders, explaining how and why the brain is responding to trauma in this manner. Unlike in other textbooks or material that I've read concerning individuals with brain disorders, Kean doesn't deal with just the disorder, he deals with the person behind the disorder. One of the best sections in the book was on Phineas Gage, who accidentally blasted a tamping rod through his brain, in such a way that he caused damage to his emotional brain. Kean included more information on what happened to Gage than any other book I have read. Most other material simply repeats that this man went from being nice to being nasty, and Kean makes it clear that this simply isn't true. Gage managed to live another 12 years after his accident and for most of that time, was a working member of society.
Kean deals with one of the biggest questions in neuroscience...that of where the physical presence of the brain ends, and where our 'mind' or consciousness and ego begin. With each little snippet of information, and studying people with brain disorders, we gain a little more insight into what makes each of us an individual. Writing such as Kean is doing on science topics make it so that everyone can know and understand the importance of the brain. Hopefully, when someone picks up a newspaper with information about the newest research in Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, they will be more likely to understand what is being discussed thanks to Kean's book.
Top reviews from other countries
He is not specialist, but knows the subject and knows how to explain it. He takes us through many interesting cases – told from the human point of view, not a “litany of one damned brain-scan study after another”. Historically it is through the abnormal and unusual that the workings of the normal mind have been revealed. Some of the cases have appeared elsewhere in books and on documentaries, and, of course Youtube.
They are all fascinating and well told. Just occasionally he seems to be offering the bizarre, and the unfortunate, for our amusement, but on the whole a compassion and humanity underlies his writing. His last words express an empathy for sufferings which could afflict any of us.
The author’s style is easy going, even street. “Lutheran scum” was one memorable expression. His description of an aphasic as a “real prick” is another. Just occasionally he borders on flippancy.
He takes a “great men” approach to the history of ideas – after a fashion. The book is as much about the doctors as their patients. And as much about the doctors’ lives outside the clinics and wards. Flaws and weaknesses [and indeed sins] are not concealed. They are written up as characters, as eccentrics – “a pair of bearded Germans”, “a brusque cockney” [nobel laureates all] – and sometimes worse. Sometimes he goes off on too much of a tangent. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like serious science at all; advances seem to occur by chance, accident and unethical experiments on cats and dogs. Of course, the author has his tongue in his cheek, or at least I think so. And it is a fun tour by a genial and chatty guide.
It’s not for the complete beginner, not “for dummies”. The reader would definitely have to have start with some knowledge of the subject. I actually got lost in the closing chapters on consciousness, “the ultimate goal of neuroscience”.
But taken as a whole – with a website offering more - Duelling excited my grey matter, tickled my limbic system and left something in my hippocampus.
Absolutely fascinating and well-written. I very strongly recommend it.