The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons Book Summary - The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons Book explained in key points
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The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons summary

Sam Kean

The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery

4.5 (97 ratings)
24 mins

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'The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons' by Sam Kean explores the history of neuroscience through the stories of eccentric and innovative scientists, revealing the secrets of the brain and mind.

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    The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
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    Much of our knowledge about the brain comes from studying the victims of brain damage.

    Throughout most of our history, scientists couldn’t see what was happening in people’s heads without drilling a hole into their skulls. That’s why the pioneers of neuroscience learned about the brain mostly by studying individuals with brain damage.

    People with brain disorders often perceive the world oddly or behave in unusual ways. Woodrow Wilson, for example, lost the ability to notice things to his left after he suffered a stroke in 1919.

    Early neuroscientists often conducted their research by performing autopsies on people with brain damage after they died. Autopsies often revealed damage to specific brain regions, so researchers could ascertain what activities those regions were responsible for, based on the person’s unusual behavior.

    The famous 1559 autopsy of King Henri II of France was the first breakthrough in this field. It showed that post-mortem examinations could provide us with deeper insight into the inner workings of the brain.

    Henri had suffered a severe blow to the forehead during a joust. He was bedridden for weeks, experiencing hallucinations and painful headaches until he died.

    After the king died, a surgeon named Ambroise Parè and an anatomist named Andreas Vesalius conducted an autopsy on his head – a highly contentious move at the time. This enabled them to uncover the cause of his hallucinations: the king’s skull was intact but the injury had caused swelling and tissue decay at the back of his brain.

    Andreas and Vesalius’s findings helped establish the credibility of autopsies as a means of scientific research. We owe much of our knowledge about the human brain to unfortunate individuals like King Henri, and the brilliant scientists who studied their brains after their deaths.

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    What is The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons about?

    The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons (2014) is a trip into the fascinating world of the human brain via some of the strangest psychological case studies in history. Until quite recently, neuroscientists could only study the brain by analyzing the thoughts and behaviors of people with aberrant brains. Sam Kean uses these historic case studies to paint a picture of the organ that creates our emotions, personality and consciousness.

    Best quote from The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

    Neurons that fire together, wire together.

    —Sam Kean
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    Who should read The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons?

    • Psychology and neuroscience students
    • Anyone who wants to understand their own mind
    • Anyone interested in unusual medical conditions

    About the Author

    Sam Kean is a contributor to numerous scientific journals, the New York Times and Psychology Today. He’s published two other bestselling science history books: The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb.

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