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Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein's Brain
Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the Canadian Science Writer's Award
The story begins in April 1955, when Thomas Stolz Harvey, chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital, found himself in charge of dissecting the cadaver of the greatest scientist of his age, perhaps of any age. He seized the opportunity to do something "noble." Using an electric saw, Harvey sliced through the skull and gingerly removed the organ that would both define and haunt the rest of his life. Harvey struck a controversial deal with Einstein's family to keep the brain, swearing to safeguard it from souvenir hunters and publicity seekers, and to make it available only for serious scientific inquiry. Not a neuroscientist himself, he became the unlikely custodian of this object of intense curiosity and speculation, and the self-styled bulwark against the relentless power of Einstein's growing celebrity.
Bridging the post-war era and the new millennium, Possessing Genius is the first comprehensive account of the circuitous path the brain took with Harvey during the decades it remained in his possession. Harvey permitted Einstein's gray matter to be sliced, diced, probed, prodded, and weighed by those hoping to solve the enigma and locate the source of genius itself. The brain was more than a subject of scientific investigation, it was a kind of holy relic; the history of its adventures since 1955 reflects the vicissitudes and vanities underpinning what we believe makes us human. Abraham has gathered together all of the fascinating details and documents of the brain's saga--including previously unpublished correspondence between Harvey and Otto Nathan, the executor of Einstein's estate—and from them woven a story that is both deeply engrossing and highly illuminating.
In 1955, when Princeton Hospital pathologist Thomas Harvey removed Einstein's brain during autopsy, plopped it in a Tupperware "RM" container, and stashed it in his closet for safekeeping, he thought he was preserving history. Instead, he was creating the biggest headache of his life.
Possessing Genius is the first comprehensive account of the brain's twisted path with Harvey over the next forty years, as well as the controversial scientific research surrounding it. Researchers around the world have sliced, diced, probed, prodded, and weighed the remains, hoping to locate the source of intelligence — and the answer to the ongoing nature-versus-nurture debate.
A fascinating, almost unbelievable saga, Possessing Genius, which won the Canadian Science Writer's Award for 2001, is a compelling story about science and human vanity.
About the Author
Carolyn Abraham is the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. The winner of two national awards from the Canadian Newspaper Association, she won the Hollobon Science in Society Award for her articles on the business of genetics. Possessing Genius won the Canadian Science Writer's Award. She lives in Toronto with her husband.
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