Monday, February 4, 2008

Book Review: Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman. (Grades 5 and up.)

I majored in psychology in undergrad. So I forget that not everyone knows about Phineas Gage. Phineas Gage is famous because of an accident. It was 1848 and Gage was working at putting down railroad tracks. The crew often had to blast some rock out of the way to put down the tracks and to do this they put down blasting powder, covered it with sand, put a fuse in it, and tamped it down with a tool called a tamping iron. A tamping iron is an iron pole that's pointy on one end and rounded on the other end. The pointy end is for poking a hole in the blasting powder to place the fuse and the rounded end is for tamping down the sand-covered powder. Well. On this particular day, someone forgot to put the sand over the blasting powder. When Gage went to tamp it down, his rod hit the rock, making a spark that ignited the blasting powder and shot the tamping iron up through Gage's head. It entered his left cheek above the jaw and came out the top of the left side of his head.

The thing about Phineas Gage, though... He didn't die. In fact, he was walking on his own and talking right after the accident happened. It was a medical marvel in this age before doctors know about bacteria or living cells. The other thing about Phineas Gage, though... His personality completely changed after the accident. Before, he was a kind, friendly person. After the accident, he was moody, yelling at people for nothing and unable to make logical decisions.

Students still study Phineas Gage today because his accident indicated that different parts of the brain are responsible for different aspects of human function and personality. Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science explains all this and more in a very readable way. Fleischman includes information about the development of medicine and the 19th century theories about brain function. He tells the story of Gage's accident and then his life after the accident and how doctors studied his case to learn more about the brain.

Along with interesting text, Fleischman includes pictures... photos and diagrams of the brain to help illustrate the medical information he provides. All photos and illustrations include source notes. The book ends with an extensive glossary, a list of resources, and an index.

Hand this one to kids interested in medicine or science or anyone who wants to know how a guy could survive an iron rod shooting through his brain.

And Happy Non-Fiction Monday!!