Customer Reviews: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
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on February 28, 2010
"I unconditionally love my cells with an open heart and grateful mind. Spontaneously throughout the day, I acknowledge their existence and enthusiastically cheer them on. I am a wonderful living being capable of beaming my energy into the world, only because of them. When my bowels move, I cheer my cells for clearing that waste out of my body. When my urine flows, I admire the volume my bladder cells are capable of storing." And so it goes.

There are valuable, interesting sections of this book. Specifically, chapters 2 and 3 when she is discussing basics of brain science and current theories of what hemisphere of the brain controls what thought processes. It is truly interesting that the analytical, linear, quantitative left hemisphere is very different from the calmer, empathetic right hemisphere. How they interact to create a view of the world is fascinating. However, after two chapters of engaging brain science, Taylor says, "I encourage you to explore myriad current literature about...the brain." As in, without this book. She then follows with a play-by-play of her own stroke, her loss of the left brain, and tapping into the "total oneness" of her right brain. The most tedious section of the book is the next 100 pages or so after her stroke describing the pre-op and recovery period, endlessly listing how she couldn't read, so she had to learn; and she couldn't write, so she had to learn; and she couldn't do math, so she had to learn. On and on it went until we came to why she supposedly wrote the book: her stroke of insight.

And what is her stroke of insight? If you feel agitated, morose, angry, frustrated, or stressed-out, simply step to the right and become one with the universe. Simple.

I don't want to trivialize the potentially immense, therapeutic value a person can get from meditation, or "quieting the left brain" to find a state of inner peace. The search for inner peace is admirable and we should all be so lucky to find ourselves in states of tranquility and ease. But Taylor trivializes how one gets there and she glorifies her own stroke as the key to what lead her to this insight. Who wouldn't feel grateful to see the sun rise another day after nearly dying?!

She then starts to write like a typical "New Age" spiritual guru (read: above quotation). She meditates (okay), prays (I'll tolerate it), praises her cells for defecating (ummm...what?), loves "vocal tuning with sounding bowls", and "also draws Angel Cards several times a day." Seriously. Angel Cards.

This book is a missed opportunity. She wants to share with the world her knowledge of the right brain and that if we could only tap into it on a given moment the world would be free of war and anger and global warming. Brain science? Cool. Useless, baloney, new age mysticism? Vomit-inducing. Then again, next time I'm feeling a little stressed, I might whip out my Angel Cards while I'm taking a dump just to see what happens.
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on November 23, 2007
I've been recommending My Stroke of Insight to nearly everyone I know. Jill provides a great moment-by-moment account of her stroke, a potentially devasting event many of my relatives have experienced. I deeply admire her determination to work through it. She also does one of the best jobs of describing brain function I've ever run across. I came away with a renewed sense of understanding, wonder and hopefulness about the capabilities of the human brain. Highly recommended!
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on January 20, 2011
Last year I had a brain aneurysm, not nearly so grave an event as what happened to Dr. Taylor, but briefly life-threatening and resulting in a hospital and rehab stay of over a month. Some of what she writes parallels my own experience. For example, some hospital caregivers, including those at the lowest end of the hospital pay chain, are among the most empathetic and encouraging people I've ever met. They qualify as living saints. Others were ham-handed and indifferent. Also, being unconscious for an extended period, losing memory, is not a sensation of time, but rather of space and, often, of a great contentment and peace. Like Dr. Taylor, I had anxiety-inducing effects from a long regimen of seizure-prevention medication. It made me feel mildly buzzed and out of my skin all the time; I liked that OK sometimes, but more often I longed to be "myself" again, something that only started to happen once the medication was discontinued. It took me a year to more or less fully recover, which seems a paltry amount of time compared to Dr. Taylor's eight, but as I was experiencing it, I kept thinking, "why is this taking so long?"

So to the extent that I saw my own experience mirrored and validated, I found Dr. Taylor's book interesting. Now for the bad news -- she is not a good writer at all and she skips over the details of her recovery (I would have loved, for example, to learn more of her struggle to learn how to do mathematical functions again) to concentrate instead of such things as speaking to her cells and lying in bed thanking them for a good day. In the end, for me, it was a struggle to finish this book because of that lack of rigor in the reporting.
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on August 4, 2008
The author describes minutely her subjective experience of having a stroke and her struggle to recover. It's a quick primer on brain functioning, particularly on the activites of the right and left hemispheres. One feels great empathy and admiration.
However, the book could easily have been a magazine article, as it is quite repetitious. First, it becomes a catalogue of thank-yous to her mother, who aided her recovery. Second, it is an under-edited exhortation to train our minds to choose right-hemisphere thinking, which is more loving and accepting and less judgmental. Oops. Maybe I still need practice on that.
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on June 1, 2009
I was hoping for a first-hand account of stroke told through the (somewhat) objective lens of a scientist. However, the book is written from the perspective of someone who buys into a lot of unsubstantiated and unproven ideas about how the brain works and pawns them off as empirical truths. Unfortunately, the fact that the author has a Ph.D. (in the study of the anatomy of the brain, no less) will lend credibility to the new-agey claims she makes (especially in the latter half of the book).

The author also somewhat romanticizes and glamorizes stroke. The vast majority of people who have a stroke don't have a caretaker with the financial resources to drop everything and take up their loved one's long-term care. Most people go through traditional inpatient rehab and many also suffer from debilitating physical problems that they must deal with. Many people struggle to resolve their pre- and post-stroke personalities, abilities, and identities without the aplomb Bolte-Taylor describes. She glosses over the devastation left in the wake of a serious stroke by constantly referring to her ability to "connect with the oneness of the universe."

Ultimately, the author makes too many illogical claims, professes credence in junk science, and contradicts herself too often to allow me to value any of her insights. I am glad that Bolte-Taylor survived her ordeal, but I wish she had not written this book.
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on July 12, 2008
My 93 year old father just had a stroke. This book was recommended to me and I read it in one sitting as I was flying to Florida to see him. He understands, can think, but can barely speak. The left side of his body is paralyzed. His description of a stroke is a "nightmare". No cosmic insight or bliss. Though I found the author's descriptions very interesting and have helped me work with my father, I suspect most people don't experience the Nirvana the author describes. What happens when the right hemisphere of the brain fails? This book would be much better with a broader discussion of what other people have experienced.
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on May 5, 2008
How often do you get to hear a neuroscientist describe her own stroke?
This is an amazing story on three levels; physical, emotional, and spiritual. Dr. Jill's description of her eight year recovery is both uplifting and powerful. But the spiritual aspect is alone worth the price of admission. (I won't spoil it for you.)

Dr. Bolte-Taylor is not a writer of prose. Her style is that of someone experienced in writing scientific papers; factual, concise and parsimonious. But the content! That is what makes this a great book in my opinion.

A quick read but a powerful story.

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on January 8, 2009
When I was given My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey for Christmas this year, I was quick to crack it open and begin reading. I had head many good things said on the topic of the book, and her credentials were undeniable. Unfortunately, so is my disappointment with the work itself.

The book has several key follies, and the most prominent of these is the book's indecisive lack of depth. The author, Dr. Taylor, dips back and forth between scientific fact and (extremely) anecdotal accounts. Though this is usually a delightfully effective combination for non-fiction books, both styles are poorly executed by Taylor. The fact is overly dumbed-down and spoken mostly in euphemisms meant to appeal to the lowest denominator. Somehow, this manages to make the facts even more difficult to learn. Despite a few sentences with content, the author runs in circles and repeats the same confusing mess over and over.

The anecdotal accounts were equally disappointing. Her stories lent little interesting information to the reader; instead, they awkwardly describe the author's various feelings and pseudoscientific musings. The language used in both the science and the personal accounts is bland and repetitive.

To describe the book as a non-fiction, even is pretty difficult, as many parts of the book are fantastical assumptions made by the author. The writing style, too, floats somewhere between that of a fiction and a nonfiction book. Though Taylor tries to describe with some elegance her experiences, an otherwise excellent tale is brutally marred by a poor vocabulary and an utter lack of the literary techniques (even simple ones like basic comparisons and metaphors) characteristic of informal, fictional books. However, so little is explained plainly or scientifically, it hurts to call this a nonfiction science book. Instead, I would describe the book as written by Taylor for herself (and perhaps a small selection of people helping stroke patients recover) as a sort of crude and uninteresting diary. I could have saved several hours by just reading the 40-point list in the appendix of the book- it contained every last bit of the story's meat anyway.

At a glance, however, the book does have its merits. Despite genuinely poor authorship (Dr. Taylor should definitely stick to science), it is a fairly interesting story to be told. If you decide to stop reading 3/4ths of the way through, however, don't say I didn't warn you. In the face of Taylor's bumbling repetition, it is surely tempting.
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on January 4, 2009
I would give the author herself 5 stars for her journey and her perseverance and being able to overcome severe deficits.

For the book, however, 3 stars is generous, in my opinion. As the daughter of a recent stroke survivor, I found very useful information about how to deal with my mother and how to encourage her, and it also gave me great hope for her continued improvement and recovery. BUT......way too much right-brain writing going on here. "I love my cells" is an actual quote and perfectly illustrates how much of the last third of the book is written. I am glad I read this book and will recommend it to my sisters, but with the suggestion to just to read the middle section.

The first third is tedious, the middle third is fascinating, and the final third is weird.
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on December 31, 2010
I was told by several friends about the impressive TED talk Jill gave regarding her miraculous eight year recovery following an AVM rupture and hemorrhagic stroke. Since I had received a new Kindle over Christmas I decided to purchase her book and read it while flying back home. Initially I was impressed with her detailed recollection of the stroke experience, linking the spread of toxic blood with her incremental break down in cognitive function. Jill's experiences in the hospital and her recovery was also interesting, though not as enthralling as her earlier chapters. Her last several chapters, where she repetitively preaches the virtues of the right hemisphere, made me embarrassed to be grouped with her in the category of neuroscientists. By the time I reached the part of the book where she claims that new age methods such as Reiki transmit "healing energy" to wounds, I put the book down, or in the case of my Kindle, hit the home button.

Jill's book initially provides an intriguing window into the experience of a stroke patient while providing a lesson in neurobiology to those not versed in the field. In the end, it is a romanticized repetitive new age rallying cry which generalizes the experience of a single stroke patient and reaches absolutely unsupported conclusions on the function of the right hemisphere, such as that it cares for all living things, etc.

Since the book is initially a sound depiction of stroke experience and initial recovery, I give it some credit and probably read further than warranted, but since it reduces itself to ultimately being pseudoscience and support for supernatural beliefs, I can't with good conscious rate it higher than two stars.
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