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Fascinating! This entire book was just endlessly fascinating to me It's all about how traumatic insults to the skull and brain, whether by physical force or insidious viruses, affect our physical abilities and thoughts.Kean expertly weaves storytelling about particular brain trauma patients with carefully explained science I knew of a few of the conditions discussed, but certainly not in the detail Kean devotes He explains the process of how damage occurs and then why that damage can cause conditions like kuru disease, phantom limbs, aphasia, hallucinations He even touches on the history of scientists and doctors attempting to local the home of the soul in the brain.Kean opens each section with the story of a particular person (or group of people) who has experienced an injury to the brain, and then explains how the doctors of the time attempted to help that victim with their contemporary knowledge Each story is like a minimystery; you receive just enough information to understand the situation and then want to keep reading in order to solve/understand the process along with the doctors or scientists I don't want to give them all away, but one example is how the cannibals in Papua, New Guinea were felled by kuru; in the end it wasn't because they cannibalized their dead (eating brains isn't inherently deadly) but rather but rather the bad luck of eating patient zero Kean explains why even people born without limbs can experience phantoms, blind people will still respond to smiles or scowls or yawns without even understanding why, how reading changes our brain, why some victims of brain damage can write perfectly well but cannot read (not even the sentence they just wrote), that brains vary from person to person as much as faces do, and how a set of (still living) twins share a conjoined brain and so can do things like taste what's in one another's mouths and yet retain distinct individual thoughts and preferences.Witty, informative, a bit scary To consider how vulnerable and yet also how resilient our brains are, is just fascinating. This book is a delightful tour around the brain with a knowledgeable and gently humorous guide who never loses focus but is quite prepared to be diverted if there is a chance to enrich the story.The dueling neurosurgeons of the title represent both Paré and Vesalius (the founder of modern anatomy) who were called upon in 1559 to treat King Henri of France who, while jousting, had suffered a penetrating wound to his eye and brain Thankfully we have now in pathologysophisticated tests for examining tissue than what was used by the royal surgeon Paré: “He developed tests to distinguish between fat… and oozing bits of fatty brain tissue (fat floats on water, brain sinks; fat liquefies in a frying pan, brain shrivels.)” And we havesophisticated treatments now too, than the potion of rhubarb and charred Egyptian mummy forcefed to poor Henri The famous surgeons didn’t manage to save the King, and together they performed his autopsy; the briefly described procedure is quite similar to modern day technique They did deviate from the usual procedure in that this time they didn’t lop the head off to remove the brain We don’t do that either nowadays in the autopsy suite.The book is populated with famous characters from the annals of medical history They’re all here: Vesalius, Cajal, Golgi, Broca, HM, Penfield, etc., but they are not dusty relics in a history museum They come alive because Kean describes not just their feats but how their actions propelled forward various concepts and understandings of anatomy and medicine, based on case histories that are vividly and engagingly described While his tone is frequently light and humorous, he nonetheless stays within bounds and always respects the humanity of the patients The evolution of medical thinking is illustrated with these fascinating stories He has achieved the ideal pop science narrative that seamlessly marries case histories to fundamental neurological concepts.(Received as ARC via NetGalley from Little, Brown Co.) This is the fourth book I've read by Sam Kean, and they have all been excellent This fascinating book describes the history of our understanding of the brain in the last couple hundred years It is not a comprehensive treatment, but instead it is an indepth look at a number of episodes that gave quantum jumps into our understanding Often, these episodes are centered on some type of brain injury or illness.One of the central questions about the brain is whether or not thought processes are decentralized or localized That is to say, the question is whether each type of thought process is localized in a specific area of the brain, or spread throughout the brain Nowadays, we know that specific areas of the brain are responsible for specific thought processes, but it took a long time for sufficient evidence to pin this down with proof The best proof was to have a specific area of the brain damaged by illness or injury, and to observe what types of thought processes were affected.One of the most famous of these was the case of the rail supervisor Phineas Gage, who had a metal bar run through his skull and brain Now, I have read about this case numerous times, in many different books But Sam Kean's description isdetailed than any other that I have read.Interestingly, Kean takes the reader through the history of two presidential assassinations; McKinley and Garfield In both cases, the assassins were normal men with no violence in their past But over a short period of time, the assassins became mad, and autopsies gave physical evidence (macroscopic in one case, microscopic in the other) that the assassins had damage to their brains.The book is essentially a collection of anecdotal episodes This made it very engaging, without going too deeply into jargon and technical detail I was captivated by the description of the rare Capgras syndrome A victim of this syndrome can see and recognize family members But, as a result of two separate lesions in two different areas of the brain, the victim believes that despite recognizing the appearance of people he sees, he believes irrationally that they are not his family members, but are imposters!I didn't read this book; I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Henry Leyva His narration is very good, and helped me to enjoy the book. Kean’s third popular science book tells fascinating stories about how the brain works “Tiny flaws in the brain [have] strange but telling consequences all the time,” he writes King Henri II incurred brain injuries in jousting accidents and suffered headaches and seizures The rival neurosurgeons of the title examined him but found no skull fractures Yet Henri died of an intracranial hemorrhage – proof the brain could be damaged even if the skull stayed intact.The book is crammed full of such intriguing anecdotes Kean profiles presidential assassins with brain decay, a blind Royal Navy lieutenant who travelled the world using his cane for echolocation, and an American Civil War veteran whose story sparked research on phantom limbs Seemingly minute brain changes can alter personality or cause epilepsy, amnesia, dwarfism, degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or kuru (once common among Papuan cannibals), and all manner of delusional behavior Kean systematically chronicles how neuroscience came to understand which parts of the brain control which functions His clear, humorous prose is perfectly pitched, with simple diagrams, photographs and rebuses enlivening each chapter.As a lighthearted collection of scientific yarns, this is very much in the vein of Bill Bryson or Oliver Sacks However, there is a serious message here, too: the brain’s ability to repair itself is reassuring, but memory and identity prove problematic: “Our memories actually sculpt, rework anddistort” events, Kean cautions If the brain is so changeable, does the self remain the same? Enthralling, thoughtprovoking reading.Related reads: One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara The title suggests an anecdotal romp propelled by Kean's chirpy narrative voice However, these props are actually designed to lure the reader's entry into a muchserious domain Kean's book is arranged as a survey of neuroanatomy Five broad sections are broken up into individual chapters that each highlight a particular structure: Neurons, the occipital lobe (a key element in visual recognition), the cerebellum (part of a system that modulates motor control), the corpus callosum (the connection between left and right brain hemispheres), and the hippocampus (a critical componenet of memory storage) Some of his descriptions are unforgettable Explaining the relationship between the motor cortex and the sensory cortex he writes: “To execute a complicated movement, the motor areas also need feedback from the muscles at each stage, to ensure that their commands have been carried out properly Much of this feedback is provided by the somatosensory cortex, the brain's tactile center You can think about the somatosensory cortex as the motor cortex's twin Like the motor cortex, it's a thin, vertical strip; they in fact lie right next to each other in the brain, like parallel pieces of bacon Both strips are also organized the same way, body part by body part; that is, each strip has a hand region, a leg region, a lips region, and so on In effect, then, the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex each contain a 'body map,' with each body part having its own territory (p.145) Thanks – I guess, Sam I'll never be able to think of bacon in the the same way now!The brain's localized areas are identified, not to introduce a new phrenology, but to identify the components of complex feedback circuits Kean's explanation of visual recognition is particularly successful in demonstrating this point (Chapter 4) The tour starts in the occipital lobe Specific neurons are excited by perceiving lines and their specific orientation: “the brain determinedly breaks … form down into tiny line segments.” (p.111) An even greater array of neurons are excited when they detect movement The evolutionary advantage of such a faculty is obvious David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel shared the Nobel prize in 1981 for their discovery of this visual mechanism But this is only the beginning How do we recognize specific objects from this sensory data? How do we remember the categories these objects fall into (e.g food vs nonfood)? More specifically, how do we recognize faces? Finally, how do we match specific entities to emotional responses? Kean outlines the theory that two major circuits for visual data processing exist The first circuit is a basic identifier: Where is the object located and how fast is it moving? The circuit includes flow from the occipital lobes to the parietal lobes The second circuit flows from the occipital lobes to the temporal lobes where information about memory and recognition are transmitted As for identifying faces, there is an area called the fusiform facial area dedicated specifically to this task.Kean illustrates his examples with cases of brain damage and the resulting inferences We learn about C.K who suffered damage that made him unable to distinguish between food and nonfood Despite superior scores on face recognition tests, he was also unable to recognize faces presented to him upside down We learn about Elliott who, after prefrontal lobe surgery, was unable to make decisions, despite the fact that his memory, language and learning skills were unimpaired Antonio Damasio believes the key to Elliot's indecision was the impairment of limbic system connections that link emotion to decision making The most poignant example is that of Clive Wearing, who suffered loss of even shortterm memory, which Kean characterizes as the loss of momenttomoment consciousness Again, scientists surmise some sort of disruption of the limbic system They just don't know what.Kean's historical approach serves to highlight the difficulty of neuroscience exploration Much of this knowledge was gained through means that would be deemed unethical Neurosurgery was dangerous, and surgeons often performed procedures with little hope for a positive outcome It also calls into question the idea of “informed consent.” If a patient has neurological damage, how “informed” can his consent be? The animal experiments Kean describes are frequently revolting I have read several previous books that have touched on neuroscience I found Kean's book a pleasant combination of familiar material and an easily digestible introduction to broad neurocircuits Kean obviously hopes the casual reader will find his curiosity piqued and will explorespecialized works on the workings of the brain My personal preference is to start with the small and specific Readers of books like Lisa Genova's LEFT NEGLECTED, or Jill Bolte Taylor's MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, might find this book of special interest as a logical steppingstone. The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons This book interests me a lot I am very interested in most things science, especially neuroscience I read the book The Female Brain, and my mom was talking to a friend about that Her friend gave me this book to read I'm so glad she did I love reading things that have to do with science and that have random little fun facts that you can tell to your friends or family It had a lot of short stories about a ton of cases and some of them are really strange One is about blind people that learned to see through sensors attached to their tongues Another was about a traveler that visited hundreds of different places, explored new countries and climbed mountains He was also blind He used a cane for echolocation and made his way around the world He walked, in total, over the distance from the earth to the moon Stories like these are my favorite, because they should be impossible A blind man exploring the world? No way People seeing through their tongues? Yeah right, like they have eyes there People whose eyes skip over stationary things completely, but only register moving objects? Completely impossible, you say But no, it's all here, right here in this book that you should have in your hands I would recommend this to everyone that likes reading You could hate anything related to neuroscience but love this book and hear yourself talking about it every chance you get. This book is structured by alternating anecdotes and then science, anecdotes then science, etc It helped break up the technical info so it wasn't so overwhelming to a reader like me And I love a good science story.The brain is a fascinating thing How did Phineas Gage survive a metal rod through his brain? It bypassed vital regions and flew out the other side But the author doesn't want us to think the brain is totally localized for certain functions we use our entire brain in subtle ways for our actions There may be spots that are specialized for sight but we need the whole thing to really see Phineas Gage survived and had a somewhat normal life but as his contemporaries said, he never again was Phineas Gage. There are so many reviews I need to finish typing up, so I hate to stick another RTC on a book, but RTC!Interesting blend of history science Very easy to read and accessible for people with no background in neuroscience imo A lot of the science info was stuff I'm already familiar with but it was cool learning about the people who made all of these discoveries (view spoiler)[Wasn't a huge fan of the way the author seemed to humanise convicted pedophile Gajdusek, though I'll go intodetail in my proper review, but his contributions to the field aside, he was a garbage person and doesn't deserve to be remembered fondly after taking advantage of an isolated culture and the disease afflicting it so he could prey on children (hide spoiler)] Brains are funny, and fascinating, things Sam Kean is a funny, and fascinating, writer Sam Kean writing about brains leads, perhaps unsurprisingly, to a fascinating (and sometimes funny) book.Part of the reason brains are so fascinating is that they operate with such prodigious levels of speed and processing power that even the most powerful supercomputers can’t replicate everything that they do (they also look kind of like something Scots would boil in a sheep’s stomach with neeps and tatties, so they’ve got that going for them) And, yet, we still don’t fully understand how the brain works, and much of what we do know is the result not of studying fully functioning, normal brains, but, rather, examining those unfortunate individuals whose brains have been damaged as a result of traumatic injury or illness, resulting in bizarre behavior ranging from extreme personality changes to an inability to identify vegetables—and only vegetables (this latter brain deficiency seems particularly useful to me, actually, as it would make it much easier to continue my lifelong quest to consume as few vegetables as possible).Kean’s narrative highlights some of the most famous damaged brains in history, individuals whose conditions facilitated leaps and bounds forward in neuroscience and in helping us not only understand how our brains work, but how to treat those whose brains maybe don’t work quite right A word of warning: it can be terrifying to read about people whose faculties have been so irrevocably altered by brain trauma that they can no longer recognize loved ones or become convinced that every single person on the planet has been replaced by clones (due to the fact that they can no longer recognize the same person if they look in any way different from the last time they saw them—a change out outfit, a haircut, even an eyebrow plucking can throw them off), and there’s a distinct chance that you will want to walk around wearing a brainprotecting helmet at all times afterward (or maybe that’s just me) I now live in fear of getting a railroad spike through my brain and going all Phineas Gage on everyone.That said, this book will delight pop science aficionados (or fans of Kean’s other works) and leave you evenawed that the same organ responsible for my fixation with Saved by the Bell (which, in and of itself, may be a form of brain damage) can perform such an immense array of complicated tasks and, in certain circumstances, rewire itself to keep functioning even after sustaining trauma We’ll call this a strong 4.5 stars.(Personally, I look forward to seeing…or, well, I guess not seeing…what happens when scientists get their hands on my brain It will either advance neuroscience by leaps and bounds or set us back a thousand years My money is on the latter.) ^Kindle ☠ The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons ⇨ From the author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strikestrokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidentsand see how the victim coped In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims' personalities An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, pedophile, or liar But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain's secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible