I picked up an advanced reading copy of The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean at the Public Library Association Conference in March. The fact that there was a pile of them for the taking in the exhibit hall indicates to me that the publisher was hoping librarians would help lift the book to a profitable plateau in public book awareness. I do not know how well the book has done at bookstores, but Amazon readers have rated it at about 4 1/2 stars. I see it now in 19 of 77 libraries in my local consortium (over half are loaned out) and over 400 libraries according to Worldcat. That is modest success.
I intended to read it before publication in May. Where was my brain? Rather, where was my mind? Better still, where in my brain is my mind? That's part of what The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is about. Many of the chapters in the book recount how cases of brain trauma to various regions of the brain helped physicians (some just country doctors of their time) deduce the locations of specific brain functions and misfunctions. Some of the stories might make readers wince, as the author tells about doctors viewing and poking around exposed brains. Readers inclined to good science stories will, however, enjoy the frank descriptions.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons lends to a bit of reader self-diagnosis, too. Several times I found myself stopping to think about why I turned my head ever so slightly to favor a dominant eye, why I laugh when I do, or whether the left or right side of my brain controls most of what I do. In an entertaining way, Kean gives us much to contemplate. As I finished, I felt enlightened, as well as thankful for not having had brain trauma.
Kean, Sam. The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery. Little, Brown, and Company, 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316182348.