POSTCARDS FROM THE BRAIN MUSEUM: The Improbable Search for Meaning in the Matter of Famous Minds

Brian Burrell, Author . Broadway $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-50128-6

When scientists first began probing the human mind, it was commonly believed that the brain itself could provide insight to an individual's mental capacities. Though fields like phrenology—analyzing the brain from the shape of the skull—have been discredited, Burrell (Damn the Torpedoes ) reminds us that modern neuroscience shares many of the same preoccupations, including the central notion that the brain contains markers for mental and physical conditions. His history is therefore less a chronicle of quackery than a sympathetic account of scientific innovators whose ideas didn't quite pan out. Anthropologist Cesare Lombroso's theories in the 19th century about the criminal brain, for example, have never been entirely abandoned, and Burrell considers why it was so appealing to many Europeans of the time. Though such proto-neurosurgeons dominate his tale, Burrell also focuses on some of the brilliant minds they studied. We all know Einstein's brain was saved, but how many Americans know that the KGB had a full-time guard on Lenin's dissected organ? Or that Walt Whitman donated his brain to science, only to have a clumsy researcher destroy it? Burrell cites works by Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould that have told parts of this history, and his engaging account earns a place next to these illustrious predecessors on any science reader's bookshelf. (On sale Jan. 11)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-7679-0677-7
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