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

Book - 2014
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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.
Publisher: New York :, Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.,, 2014, ©2014.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780316182348
Branch Call Number: 617. 480232 KEA
Characteristics: 407 pages : illustrations, portraits
Alternative Title: Dueling neurosurgeons


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Jun 27, 2019

The title itself is a bit misleading but it does convey the essence of the book; historical events and medical cases significant to modern understanding of neurology are presented in an approachable yet informative sequence. We learn from our mistakes ... or rather injuries. I am reminded of a bizarre painted portrait I saw in Ambras Castle (Innsbruck, Austria) of someone apparently still alive with a lance through their skull. Kean's descriptions of S. Shereshevsky and Zazetsky are inadequate ... Do read A.R. Luria's "The Mind of a Mnemonist" (1968), but I found "The Man with a Shattered World" (1972) not as fascinating. If you want a lot more scientific detail about H. Molaison with a linguistic slant, you could slog through Donald Mackay's "Remembering" (2019).

laurendouglass Jan 30, 2019

This is another great science read from Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist's Thumb.  Dueling Neurosurgeons reviews the history of neuroscience as doctors and scientists worked to determine how the brain and consciousness work.  If you have read and loved any of Mary Roach's books you will love Sam Kean.

Nov 22, 2018

A decent read to wet your appetite for delving to the world of grey matter.

Aug 27, 2016

Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons, much like other books by Sam Kean, manages to cover the basics of neuroscience in a non-condescending manor buy providing stories of interesting instances of neurosurgery throughout history beginning with the death of Henry II and the differing treatment ideas presented by two doctors of the time, hence the title. The writing flowed very well and the tales provided are gripping and occasionally gruesome but give the reader the opportunity to learn a lot about neuroscience without simply droning on in a textbook fashion. Having said that, if one does not enter Sam Kean’s world of brains without even a little bit of interest in neuroscience, the book may seem boring or too technical. Overall this book gets a 4.5/5. - @Alias of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Jul 14, 2016

Hands down one of my favorite books. It's easy for most to understand, hilarious, and just great. Kean is such a great writer in general.

Jul 05, 2016

This author knits together a bunch of historical and scientific stories to provide a riveting and educational book! Highly recommend.

Jan 28, 2015

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

Jul 15, 2014

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.

multcolib_tamaf 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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