Mondays with Megan and Phineas Gage: The Man With a Hole in His Head (Book Review)

Happy Monday everyone! Last week I talked a bit (ok, fine, a lot) about being stuck in a reading rut. So frustrating. Anyway, another great tip for getting out of a rut is to read nonfiction. That one is hard for me. I have never been a big reader of nonfiction. For years I have lived under the misconception that nonfiction is dry and boring. It turns out that I am very much wrong! My most recent experience with nonfiction was this:


Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman is anything but dry and boring.

Meet Phineas Gage, a 26-year old foreman of a construction gang. Gage and his crew are responsible for blasting through a granite bedrock in Cavendish, Vermont to make way for the railroad. It’s a dangerous and delicate process because gunpowder is highly unstable. Phineas learns first hand how dangerous gunpowder can be on the fateful day of September 13, 1848. Eyewitness accounts for of the gruesome accident are varied, but the end result is the same: Gage’s tamping iron (an iron bar, shaped like a spear that is three feet, seven inches long and weighs thirteen pounds) sets off an explosion and is propelled into and through Gage’s skull. Miraculously, the man survives, but according to friends and family his personality is completely changed. The book goes on to explore what medical and brain science was like over 150 years ago and the ways in which Phineas Gage’s bizarre accident contributed to science.

Here is a daguerreotype of Phineas and his tamping iron. After the accident he was never without the iron bar. Many years after his death his body and the tamping iron were exhumed. Gage’s skull and the tool that damaged it are both on display at the Countway Library of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts.

This book is an engrossing (and kind of gross) read. Scientific terms are defined within the text as well as in a glossary. Photographs and illustrations are plentiful and interesting and an index is included. This book is both an interesting read and an excellent resource for a school report.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton, How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Brigg, and Ancient Medical Technology: From Herbs to Scalpels by Michael Woods, all available right here at Rocky River Public Library.

Happy Reading!



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