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The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed
the World

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A 2004 New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year

Best Books of 2004, Top Ten Editor's Picks: Science,

Library Journal's Best Sci-Tech Books, 2004

Ross King, Los Angeles Times
"Fascinating...thrilling... Zimmer has produced a top-notch work of popular science."
Full review

Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Soul Made Flesh is a tour de force, eloquently and excitingly written, powerfully re-creating the atmosphere and personalities of the time, and making the science agreeably intelligible to the non-scientist."
Full review

New York Times Book Review
"Carl Zimmer's illuminating book charts a fascinating chapter in the soul's journey."
Full review

Daily Telegraph (London)
"Zimmer's prose is wonderfully lucid, his curiosity wide."
Full review

Lisa Jardine Sunday Times (London)
"This is a much-needed book on an extraordinary 17th-century figure."
Full review

British Medical Journal
"For anyone interested in the history of medicine it is a must read."
Full review

New Scientist
"Carl Zimmer is an excellent writer. In Soul Made Flesh he is on the trail of revolutionary science. He engages from the start by conjuring up the smell of the past as he leads you by the nose from dung heap and botanist to the "freshly cracked skull" of a nobleman, the brain smelling of curds. There is a point to this stench trail. We are in 17th-century Oxford, where brain science began. How the brain was thought of changed utterly in under a century, and Zimmer is a great guide to the story."

The Journal of the History of Neurosciences
This book is a joy to read. Zimmer has crafted a pleasant style, leveraging his talents that were cultivated during his time as a newspaper journalist. The texture of the pages and the typesetting suggest an old-fashioned printing and binding for the book; it’s pleasant to handle and easy reading. Several chapters are adorned with period illustrations by Christopher Wren. For anyone interested in the birth of contemporary medicine, social philosophy, and religion, this is a wonderland of enticing history. In fact, most people interested in this period of history will find the book is an entertaining read; one that is difficult to put down.

Current Biology
"It is perhaps surprising, given the contemporary eminence of neuroscience within biological research, that it was not appreciated until the 17th century that the brain might have an important function. A compelling new book by Carl Zimmer surveys the scientific, conceptual and political upheavals in England at this time as a backdrop to the major experimental work carried out by a little-known doctor, Thomas Willis in Oxford, who was key to unravelling the beginnings of our modern view of the brain."

William Calvin, Natural History
"Zimmer has written a fine intellectual history of early neuroscience. It is full of drama, and it brings to life the struggles for insight that begin in William Harvey’s time with the flowering of physiology."
Full review

Nature Medicine
"The book is written in an engaging way and the scientific descriptions are masterfully inserted into the context of a complex and dramatic phase of English history...I have greatly enjoyed reading Zimmer's book and I would recommend it to scientists and to members of the general public interested in some of the paths leading to today's understanding of the brain."
Full review

"Ravaged by religious wars and capricious monarchs, 17th-century England was a kingdom in chaos. Against this bloody backdrop, Zimmer recounts physician Thomas Willis' momentous discovery that the brain - previously dismissed as "a bowl of curds" - is the seat of human consciousness and memory. This page-turner is a tribute to the heretical thinkers who decoded nature by relying on direct observation rather than received opinion."

Steven Rose, The Guardian
"Engagingly written"
Full review

"An erudite and highly attractive account."
Full review

The Journal of Clinical Investigation
"Soul Made Flesh belongs in all libraries...a hard book to put down."
Full review

Simon Conway Morris, Bioscience
"A wonderful read."
Full review

"Hugely entertaining."
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"Instructive and engaging."
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Library Journal
"A fascinating tour-de-force"
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Booklist (Starred Review)
"[Zimmer is] a gifted science writer...A remarkable fusion of scientific history and cultural analysis."
Full review

Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
"Illuminating...A deep and contextualized exploration of two millennia's worth of human theories about consciousness."
Full review

Kirkus Reviews
"The many parallels that can be drawn between politics, religion, science, and human behavior then and now add unexpected dividends to this engaging narrative....Absorbing and thought-provoking."
Full review

Scientific American
"Thomas Willis, an eminent physician in 17th-century England, published in 1664 a book that became a medical classic: Cerebri anatome, or The Anatomy of the Brain, based on his pioneering and painstaking dissections of human brains. Science writer Zimmer, describing the work and its consequences, says that Willis and his team had produced more than a map of the brain. 'They had, for the first time, created a unified treatment of the brain and the nerves.' And to far-reaching effect. Willis 'did for the brain and nerves what William Harvey had done for the heart and blood: made them a subject of modern scientific study.' Zimmer draws a vivid picture of the background against which Willis and other scientists of the time worked."

Science News
"Prior to Thomas Willis' revolutionary 17th-century dissections of brains-human and animal-people generally believed that the soul's domain was the heart. Zimmer brilliantly details not only Willis' life but also the state of society, religion, and medicine during his forging of the science of neurology. From the first paragraph, Zimmer paints a vivid portrait by depicting the sights and smells of Oxford, England, in 1662. He then weaves the tale of Willis' rise from boy of modest beginnings to accomplished physician sharing the company of some the world's most noted thinkers, including Christopher Wren, Richard Lower, and Robert Hooke. Before Willis began mapping the brain, there was a wide perception that not much went on there. Willis proved that idea dead wrong and showed that the brain's structures could form memories, dream, and imagine. Zimmer beautifully illustrates how Willis led us to the view that the brain is central not only to the body but to our sense of self. It was this keystone that drove a new medical age that rejected metaphysics in favor of hard science-a leap that Willis himself sometimes found difficult."

In 1664, an eminent 17th-century English physician named Thomas Willis published Cerebri anatome, or The Anatomy of the Brain and "Nerves. This divine workmanship was presented to the Royal Society of London that same year and the "neurology" or "doctrine of the nerves" was born. Zimmer, an accomplished science essayist and author, utilizes his engaging style of storytelling to usher the reader into the sights, sounds, and smells of 17th century Oxford, England. Though misguided medieval practices such as bloodletting and induced vomiting slowed the progress of medical physiology, Willis reorganized ncuroanatomical knowledge by brilliantly mapping structure and function relationships through observation and experimentation. Generations of physicians and philosophers had understood the ventricles of the brain to be corrals for the spirits. With experimentation, Willis soon discovered that these chambers were simply "a complication of the brain infoldings." Zimmer paints a vivid historical picture of the brain as it replaces the heart on the throne of the soul. At the same time, the reader becomes intimately involved with the strong cultural resistance to a shift to a more mechanistic view of brain function. Rich with drama, Zimmer's book will appeal to any reader with an interest in the history of science. Summing Up: Recommended

The Scotsman
Full review

Denver Post
"Wry and engaging."
Full review

"Soul Made Flesh is an outstanding book...a must-read."
Full review

Time Out New York
"Zimmer crafts a fabulous story."
Full review

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Full review

Publishing News (UK)
"There are two joys in this book, one being the discovery of this little-known scientific story and the second the background history depicting the world of Thomas Willis and his fellow scientists and friends. This is one science title that will really change the way you think."

The New York Times, December 31, 2003
William Safire puts Soul Made Flesh on his list of 2004 nonfiction sleepers.