Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story

Houghton Mifflin, 2002
86 pages
2.5 out of 5

Phineas Gage was truly a man with a hole in his head.  Phineas, a railroad construction foreman, was blasting rock near Cavendish, Vermont, in 1848 when a thirteen-pound iron rod was shot through his brain.  Miraculously, he survived to live another eleven years and become a textbook case in brain science.  At the time, Phineas Gage seemed to completely recover from his accident.  He could walk, talk, work, and travel, but he was changed.  Gage "was no longer Gage," said his Vermont doctor, meaning that the old Phineas was dependable and well liked.  The new Phineas was crude and unpredictable.  His case astonished doctors in his day, and still fascinates doctors today.  What happened and what didn't happen inside the brain of Phineas Gage will tell you a lot about how your brain works and how you act human.

Phineas Gage is an interesting subject, but this title left me generally unimpressed.  It is classified as a biography, and though it does follow Phineas Gage from his accident until his death, the amount of information about the brain in general makes it feel like it could be categorized elsewhere.  It reminded me of true crime novels where the killer was never found or didn't confess to everything.

Early in the book, there was a long parenthetical didactic moment stressing the importance of wearing a helmet when engaging in certain activities.  Don't get me wrong, this is an important thing to know, but didn't seem to fit with the book (and it was the only inclusion of this type).

Another odd element was the continued use of a quotation marks.  Every word that could be deemed new vocabulary was surrounded by the little guys.  It seemed they were used as "emphasis," but it made for some "very" annoying reading at times. 

The book is written in a conversational tone, which is nice.   It was set up so that there was case study information and then would shift to the science side of it.  It's almost like reading an episode of Bill Nye or another science-y show.

Best description ever: The iron rod was like "a rocket through his brain."


I borrowed this title from my local library.

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