Relying solely on anecdotal case studies, 'The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons' nonetheless presents an elucidating and informative tour through the neural connections of the human brain via the true stories of individuals affected by severe trauma. While it does lack the sophistication that would be more in evidence were it to have been authored by someone with a medical degree, the intent of this book was to make an attempt at exploring the resilience and functionality of localized areas of the human brain, with emphasis placed on how the mind can be affected when the brain is damaged. On that account, there is no question how well 'The Dueling Neurosurgeons' succeeded.
In what is an eminently readable introduction to the intricacies of neural connections and how they relate to our every thought and motion, the subject is approached from the angle that science's most effective means of understanding which sections control what specific functions is to this day best demonstrated by studying the effects of traumatic injuries. This is conveyed splendidly, and, for a medical layman, in a remarkably erudite manner. The information is certainly related in a way that the uninitiated can easily follow, without resorting to softening its intellectual merit.
Not only was it an excellent introduction to such complicated subject matter, I appreciated Mr Kean's inclusion of biographical and intimate details surrounding the men and women involved, so that that the subjects are never dehumanized, but made all the more sympathetic from these before and after glimpses of their lives. As a former psychology major, I found that aspect sorely lacking in the more academic texts - the professionals would do well to take a cue from Mr Kean in that regard.
In offering some captivating evidence that the mind and brain are of course the same, yet entirely separate entities, this book proves its merits many times over. At the very least, it provokes scientific curiosity and was an entertaining form of education - the very best sort. Though the topic could have been a slog in less capable hands, I devoured it with relish in half a day.
Sam Kean has previously shown his talent for making “science” accessible, interesting and entertaining. Here he takes on neurology in an enjoyable and informative read.
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.
This is another pressie for my niece. I can't say how it'll read, but I heard the author talking about it on the radio and thought it'd be perfect for her as Neuro-Science is her specialised subject. I'm sure she'll love it.
Sam Kean has a very readable style, adding his sense of humour to describe some very macabre situations. His "tales" make the inner workings of the brain gradually become very clear. An excellent read for anyone interested in how our "grey matter" affects and controls us.