Possessing Genius

Possessing Genius

The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein's Brain

Book - 2002
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For nearly half a century the pickled brain of Albert Einstein has roamed the world-in Tupperware containers, courier packages, and, most famously, car trunks. In Possessing Genius , award-winning journalist Carolyn Abraham presents the whole story-the mysteries, myths, and almost unbelievable facts-of the brain's postmortem odyssey.

The story begins with 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. Einstein's brain was more than a subject of scientific investigation but a kind of holy relic; the history of its perambulations since 1955 reflects the vicissitudes and vanities underpinning what we believe makes us human. Abraham has gathered together all fascinating details and documents of the brain's saga-including previously unpublished correspondence between Harvey and Otto Nathan, the executor of Einstein's estate-and from them woven a story that is both deeply engrossing and highly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.
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2002, c2001
Edition: 1st U.S. ed. --
ISBN: 9780312281175
Branch Call Number: 616/.07/092/Harve/-A 698901 1
Characteristics: xi, 388 p. : ill


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Oct 28, 2014

I blew through this book too quickly because I wasn't really very interesting in the travels and travails regarding "the brain" which was removed and preserved following an autopsy. I did try to read for information about the actual brain but I don't think there was a lot in the book regarding scientific work on Einstein's brain.

Of course there has been incredible progress in understanding the form and function of the brain since Einstein's death in 1955 and my study of anatomy in the mid 60's. I will try to remember this quote from the book: "the core question is not how big is the brain?, but "how is the brain big?"

In Einstein's case his brain wasn't unusual in size but the parietal lobes were especially well developed. Many studies have linked this rear upper region of the brain to spatial and mathematical reasoning.

I did not find the CONTENTS and INDEX portions of the book very useful in navigating to my interests. I did learn quite a bit about brains and brain plasticity in general, but not much about Einstein's brain! tfc

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