The remarkable, intertwined histories of neurology, psychiatry, neurosyphilis, and hysteria, and the derailing of a coordinated approach to mental illness.
In 1882, Jean-Martin Charcot was the premiere physician in Paris, having just established a neurology clinic at the infamous Salpêtrière Hospital, a place that was called a "grand asylum of human misery." Assessing the dismal conditions, he quickly set up to upgrade the facilities, and in doing so, revolutionized the treatment of mental illness.
Many of Charcot's patients had neurosyphilis (the advanced form of syphilis), a disease of mad poets, novelists, painters, and musicians, and a driving force behind the overflow of patients in Europe's asylums. A sexually transmitted disease, it is known as "the great imitator" since its symptoms resemble those of almost any biological disease or mental illness. It is also the perfect lens through which to peel back the layers to better understand the brain and the mind. Yet, Charcot's work took a bizarre turn when he brought mesmerism--hypnotism--into his clinic, abandoning his pursuit of the biological basis of illness in favor of the far sexier and theatrical treatment of female "hysterics," whose symptoms mimic those seen in brain disease, but were elusive in origin. This and a general fear of contagion set the stage for Sigmund Freud, whose seductive theory, Freudian analysis, brought sex and hysteria onto the psychiatrist couch, leaving the brain behind.
How The Brain Lost Its Mind tells this rich and compelling story, and raises a host of philosophical and practical questions. Are we any closer to understanding the difference between a sick mind and a sick brain? The real issue remains: where should neurology and psychiatry converge to explore not just the brain, but the nature of the human psyche?
“I have listened to, watched, and read Allan Ropper on subjects related to the brain for thirty years. He's still my teacher, but I've never seen him teach like this. Along with his friend and gifted co-author, Ropper takes us on a romp through centuries of cultural and scientific history. There's a kicker: can that history clarify and crystallize through the lens of just one nasty disease? Yes. Read how in this page-turningly accessible and brilliant book.”—Edison K. Miyawaki, M.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, author of The Frontal Brain and Language
About the Authors:
Allan H. Ropper, M.D., is Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Raymond D. Adams Master Clinician of the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He is also a deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, Royal College of Physicians, and the American College of Physicians. Dr. Ropper is an author of the most widely consulted textbook of neurology, Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology, currently in its eleventh edition, and co-author with Brian David Burrell of Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole.
Brian David Burrell is a member of the mathematics faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A teacher and writer, he is the author is several books, including Postcards from the Brain Museum, The Words We Live By, and, jointly with Dr. Allan H. Ropper, Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole. He is an authority on brain collections worldwide, and has discussed his work on NBC's Today Show, C-SPAN's Booknotes, and NPR's Morning Edition.