The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World

The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World

The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World

The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World


Da Vinci to van Gogh, Hitler to Howard Hughes- how brain diseases and conditions like epilepsy, syphilis, schizophrenia, and tumors h ave made their sufferers both famous and infamous, and have altered the course of history Writing in a chatty, anecdotal style, this work by a forensic psychiatrist and researcher delves into the brain conditions that affected famous figures and celebrates the work of groundbreaking doctors who discovered amazing things about the brain explaining, in plain English, exactly what they discovered. The significant historical figures covered include Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Adolf Hitler, Jack the Ripper, Arthur Inman (the world's longest diarist), Vaslav Nijinsky, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Ruby. Dr. Kaplan illuminates both the bizarre and common conditions that affected these and many more exceptional humans. The conditions and diseases discussed include temporal lobe epilepsy, hypergraphia, mirror writing, brain tumor, Parkinson's syndrome, syphilis, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.


One morning my grandfather, Sam Kaplan, then in his early fifties, was found lying on the ground. Roused, he could not speak, appearing confused and not recognising people around him. Admitted to hospital, he was seen by a neurosurgeon. the tests gave no indication of what was wrong, and the decision was made to take a brain biopsy through a small opening in the skull. the biopsy, the surgeon told my father, showed that Sam had Alzheimer’s disease, the condition described the previous century by Alois Alzheimer and regarded as a predecessor to senile dementia.

‘We have no choice,’ the neurosurgeon said, ‘but to do a lobotomy’.

The family, in the days when the doctor, particularly a specialist, was regarded as the highest authority, if not a god, agreed.

And so it was done. the surgery would have been a freehand procedure with two holes bored on opposite sides of the frontal skull and what was known as a leucotomy knife inserted in each orifice. It was at this point that the skill and expertise of the neurosurgeon would come to the fore to ensure that the white matter fibres connecting the frontal section of the brain were severed without affecting other structures. On the day, these considerations were absent from the operating theatre and, as the results indicated, the effect was akin to shoving a screwdriver into the brain cavity and waggling it around.

Sam Kaplan never spoke again and never rejoined the world after his collapse. He had been a restless and gregarious man who loved company and conversation. He could talk with family, friends or just about anyone he would find and bring home until the early hours of the morning—if not later, had his wife Bertha not intervened and ushered the visitors out.

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