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May 15, 1996

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery

Author Affiliations

University of California, San Diego

JAMA. 1996;275(19):1520-1521. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530430064043

The text of the introduction to When the Air Hits Your Brain repeats the back cover: "Neurosurgery is an arrogant occupation." The neurosurgeon author writes, "The greatest mystery of creation resides in a few pounds of greasy flesh and blood. Only the neurosurgeon dares to improve upon five billion years of evolution in a few hours," and, "When an unfortunate homo erectus plummeted from a cliff, suffering the first hominid injury, mankind learned of the exquisite vulnerability of the pink goo between their ears."

These excerpts exemplify the range of expression in this book of episodes in the life and education of the author, who is now associated with Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh. After an introduction to neurosurgical training as a medical student, he was hooked. Cushing, the archetypical neurosurgeon (a "gray, chain-smoking male," according to Dr Vertosick), endlessly exploited the public's fascination with his infant specialty. Neurosurgeons are