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Book and Media Reviews
June 27, 2012

Galvani’s Spark: The Story of the Nerve Impulse

Author Affiliations
 

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Contributing Editor.

Author Affiliation: Michigan State University, East Lansing (rootbern@msu.edu).

JAMA. 2012;307(24):2644-2645. doi:10.1001/jama.307.24.2644

The title of this highly readable text suggests the sort of history of science that might not appeal to a working scientist or physician, and the cover illustration of Galvani and some frog legs reinforces the misimpression. Alan McComas does begin with Galvani's 18th-century discovery that electricity could make a dead frog's leg jump, but that is just an appetizer. The story really begins, as it should, with how questions about nerve function—What are the functions of dendrites, synapses, and myelin sheaths? How are messages carried by these structures and in what form (chemical, electrical, or both)?—followed from the seminal discoveries of nerve structure by Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Emilio Golgi during the 1890s.

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