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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

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


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.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 28, 2014 – Science writer Kean (The Disappearing Spoon) delves into the strange ways we've learned about the workings of our brains, rejuvenating with invigorating detail anecdotes that otherwise receive only brief textbook mention. Even his organization, with each chapter devoted to a particular scientific discovery, is assembled to be most effectively processed by the brain and its capacities for chunking smaller units of information. Reading this collection is like touring a museum of neuroscience's most dramatic anomalies, each chapter taking us to a different place and time. We see how the death of King Henry II of France initiated a curiosity for anatomy that persists today, learn that some of the most innovative theories of neuron function came from studying frog hearts, and how Paul Broca discovered the brain's "first language node." Of course, no collection of science's most enlightening maladies is complete without mention of Phineas Gage's famous incident with a tamping iron, but here it is rendered afresh. Indeed, Kean's colloquial language and intimate voice bring all of this series of mini-histories to life all of which are sure to stimulate a wide range of brains.

Customer Reviews

Loved it!

A fun read!!! This book is stocked with neuropsychology case stories and tid bits of info that make the book hard to put down. The writer had a wickedly funny sense of humor not often seen in the science reads. Such a good book and so interesting that I'll probably read it twice.

Absolutely awesome

I have now read all 3 of this author's books and found all of them to be interesting and informative while still entertaining. Perhaps it helps that I am an MD and a science geek but I doubt it. Of the 3 this was by far my favorite but I would still highly recommend all of them.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Science & Nature
  • Published: May 06, 2014
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Seller: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Print Length: 416 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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