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Reviewed by Mary DeKok Blowers for Readers' Favorite
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery is by Sam Kean. This book begins with the work of a doctor, Andreas Vesalius, who studied the anatomy of gladiators when they were injured, since it was illegal to dissect humans and the gladiators frequently provided severe injuries exposing internal structure. Several other high profile cases are mentioned. When King Henri of France was gouged by a lance in his eye in a jousting match in 1559, a large splinter was removed from his eye, but several others were unable to be removed. He was treated by Parette, who often evaluated the brains of decapitated criminals, sometimes finding swollen and dead tissue, now known as concussions. Henri’s headache increased, which told Parette the blood vessels had ruptured and the blood was expanding in the skull. He finally died of a hemorrhage. At that time an autopsy was allowed. The shards from the lance that could not be removed were found to have penetrated the brain, and large blood clots were discovered that had expanded in the skull and caused Henri’s ultimate demise.
Charles Guiteau believed he was told by God to kill President Garfield. He bought a pistol and determined to kill him in church. He shot Garfield at the train station, first nicking him and then hitting his lower back. A Doctor Bliss was assigned to care for Garfield and he subsequently released tidbits of updates to the press. Garfield eventually stabilized and he relocated to New Jersey, but later died of an infection. It was upon an autopsy of Guiteau, after his death sentence was carried out, that his brain was found to have certain abnormalities.
Titled in reference to the jousting accident of King Henri, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons contains many other cases which point out the ingenious adaptability of the brain to unfortunate circumstances. James Holman, though totally blind after extensive exploration of Siberia, developed a method of echolocation by using a cane to understand and navigate his surroundings. You will certainly learn more about the anatomy of the brain through Sam Kean’s discussion of dendrites, neurons, and synapses.