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The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed
the World

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About the Book:

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Soul Made Flesh tells the story of a dramatic turning point in history--the discovery of the role and importance of the human brain. The secrets of the brain were uncovered in seventeenth century England, against a deadly backdrop of civil war, regicide, and plague. At the beginning of this turbulent century, no one know how the brain worked; they didn't even know what an intact brain looked like. By the century's close, the science of the brain had been established, helping to overturn misconceptions about the body and to unseat philosophies about the mind and the universe that had ruled Western thought for centuries. Presiding over the rise of this new science was the founder of modern neurology, Thomas Willis, a fascinating yet forgotten figure who stood at the center of an extraordinary group of natural philosophers known as the Oxford Circle. Soul Made Flesh chronicles their groundbreaking revelations and gory experiments that first enshrined the brain as the chemical engine of reason, emotion, and madness--as the very seat of the human soul.

Watch a lecture about Soul Made Flesh delivered at the Stanford University School of Medicine on C-SPAN's video archive.

Praise for Soul Made Flesh:
Steven Pinker, Harvard University,
author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate

"Today the idea that every aspect of human experience consists of activity in the brain is second nature to some people and an 'astonishing hypothesis' --or even sacrilege--to others. But few are aware of the ancestry of this idea. Soul Made Flesh tells the fascinating story of how people first became aware of one of the most radical thoughts the human mind has ever had to think. The writing is vivid and literate, the story compelling, and the modern implications drawn out with skill and verve."

Neal Stephenson, author of Quicksilver and Cryptonomicon
"Carl Zimmer clarifies and illuminates the story of a fascinating thinker who too often gets lost among the crowd of colorful geniuses who made up the early Royal Society. By focusing on a single player in the vast spectacle that was the Scientific Revolution, and telling his story so well, Zimmer gives us insights into the age when Alchemy, and even older systems of thought, gave way to modern science. But this is not only a history book, for readers with an interest in consciousness and the brain will find much here that applies to research going on today."

Oliver Sacks, author of Uncle Tungsten and Awakenings
"Thomas Willis was the first man to come to grips with the human brain, to see how different parts of it had different functions, and how the human soul could be embodied in it. In Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer gives a remarkable, beautiful account of England's 'genius century,' and of the intertwined lives of Willis and his contemporaries, Harvey, Boyle, and Hooke. Zimmer brings Willis and his intellectual journey to life--his prose, as always, is clear, vivid, and arresting--and reminds us how startling and revolutionary his discoveries were."

Timothy Ferris, author of The Whole Shebang and Coming of Age in the Milky Way
"An uncommonly literate look at a little-explored side of scientific history, and a thumping good read at that."

Michael Gazzaniga, Director of the Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College, and author of The Mind's Past
"Few writers can bring back the odor and the sense of time during historic discoveries. Few can capture the extent of human ignorance that is present and is about to be illuminated. Carl Zimmer writes with a rare skill, a captivating skill that brings one back to that place. We all take the present so easily and naturally and yet each stone along the road to our present modern life was hard to find and to put in place. This is a must read."

John Horgan, author of The End of Science and Rational Mysticism
"Carl Zimmer bring to astonishingly vivid life a momentous turning point in science's history, when a band of brave British anatomists revealed that our memories, visions, fears, dreams--our very souls--spring from a three-pound lump of flesh in our skulls. One of our best science journalists turns out to be a skilled historian as well."

Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men
"An intriguing portrait of a forgotten genius, and a vivid excursion into the extraordinary world of seventeenth-century experiment and thought."