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My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Paperback – May 26, 2009
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"Transformative...[Taylor's] experience...will shatter [your] own perception of the world."
"[Dr. Taylor] brings a deep personal understanding to something she long studied: that the two lobes of the brain have very different personalities."
-The New York Times
"Fascinating...invaluable...fearless...This book is about the wonder of being human."
-Robert Koehler, Tribune Media Services
About the Author
Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Bloomington, Indiana. She is the National Spokesperson for the Mentally Ill for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (Brain Bank) and the Consulting Neuroantomist for the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute. Since 1993 she has been an active member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Her story has been featured on the PBS program Understanding Amazing Brain, among others. She was interviewed on NPR’s Infinite Mind and ABC News, and was named one of The 100 of the World’s Most Influential People of 2008 in Time Magazine.
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Let's start with the positives: This book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the human brain and how it functions, any health care professional or caregiver who deals with stroke patients, anyone who has a friend or family member who has had a stroke, and anyone who is concerned about the possibility that they might someday suffer from a stroke (a statistical possibility, since about 700,000 Americans will have a stroke this year). If you want to know about what it's like to have a stroke and to recover from it, this is the book to read. Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke and lived to tell her story of survival, recovery, and rehabilitation. The information she provides about her personal experience is priceless for anyone who wants to better understand what happens when someone has a stroke, and what is needed for recovery and rehabilitation. This information is also of extreme value for anyone who wants to better understand how the brain works to make us who we are. Five stars for the information on the brain and stroke.
But now I must deal with the negatives, and comment on the "two-star" aspects of this book. First of all, the writing style is a bit amateurish; but we can excuse Dr. Taylor for that, since she's a brain scientist, not a professional writer. But I do have a bit of a problem with how she tells her story. What bothers me about her account is her description of what was going on in her mind while she was having the stroke and during her recovery. She describes herself as having certain thoughts that just don't seem plausible given her description of the mental impairments she was suffering at the time. She makes a point of saying that the language centers of her left cerebral cortex had been impaired, silencing the inner voice in her head, leaving her mind in a state of peaceful quiet. Yet she goes on to describe thoughts that were running through her mind. (How could she have such thoughts without that inner voice?) I got the feeling that she was actually describing the thoughts that went through her mind years later as she was recalling her stroke experience. (But, given the fact that our minds actually "construct" our memories as we reflect on our past experiences rather than simply recording our experiences and playing them back for us with perfect accuracy, this sort of thing is to be expected.)
But what really annoyed me about this book was that, in the last few chapters, it turned into a sappy, shallow, self-help book of the "learn-to-love-yourself-and-think-happy-thoughts" variety; and includes what has to be the single corniest sentence ever written in the English language: "When my bowels move, I cheer my cells for clearing that waste out of my body." (p. 156) In these later chapters, the book even delves into "New Age" stuff like "energy dynamics", Feng Shui, and "Angel Cards". I felt that this seriously compromised the integrity of the valuable information that Dr. Taylor presented about brain science and stroke recovery. This information is so valuable that I would still recommend the book in spite of its many shortcomings; but I would encourage you to take the last few chapters of the book with a grain of salt.
The absolute worst thing about this book is how the author romanticizes strokes. There is nothing great or cool about a stroke. While I realize that someone can't walk away saying "wow, strokes are cool, I want one" and go out to get one, I can't stress how dangerous it is to romanticize strokes in this manner. They are medical emergencies. This book is irresponsible and does a disservice to stroke survivors and stroke fatalities in the world.
She minimizes the pain, suffering, agony, and fight to reclaim movement and abilities. No stroke experience is the same - mine was 'minor' and although it was years ago, I continue to fight in recovery. Therefore, even with 'minor' strokes, the recovery is difficult and not 'cool'.
I wish I hadn't wasted my money on this book.
Personally, I don't share all the author's ideas about strict functional localization in the brain... but that is secondary and doesn't detract from my admiration of her remarkable contribution.
My enjoyment of this book was enhanced considerably by the material and links at the author's website. She has posted a number of video and audio presentations, radio shows, etc.