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Book Reviews
Oct 2012

The Cradle of American Neurology: The Harvard Neurological Unit at the Boston City Hospital

Author Affiliations


Author Affiliation: Department of Neurology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Arch Neurol. 2012;69(10):1378-1379. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2012.1822

To read The Cradle of American Neurology: The Harvard Neurological Unit at the Boston City Hospital is to travel back in time to academic neurology as it existed not too long ago, yet it seems worlds away. This book, edited by David M. Dawson and Thomas D. Sabin, provides eyewitness accounts of patient care, resident teaching, and research initiatives in neurology at Boston City Hospital in Massachusetts. A total of 22 contributors assembled 21 chapters on various aspects of this institution, beginning with its inception in 1849. Because most of these contributors (ie, authors) are still alive, it is perhaps not surprising that most of them focus on their training during the 1960s and 1970s. There appears to be broad consensus that the golden years of the Harvard Neurological Unit at the Boston City Hospital took place between the early 1950s and 1969, with Dr Derek Denny-Brown at the helm. By all accounts, he was a rigorous clinician-scientist with very broad medical and scientific interests, many of which he pursued as an investigator. His appointment was accompanied by drama, which extended beyond the typical academic politics to the uncertainties brought on by World War II. He brought with him an authoritarian air, an inquisitive mind, a truly unbelievable work ethic, and a frugality, which is pointed out by several of the authors and which must have inspired many of his protégées. His work and his collaborations with others covered topics that include demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system, cerebrovascular disease, muscle disease, and a number of metabolic diseases. In addition to collaborating with many of his colleagues at Boston City Hospital, many of his residents and fellows became leaders in academic neurology. It is unfair to give one individual all the credit for the achievements at Boston City Hospital during this time, especially because he was accompanied in his pursuits by the likes of Ladut Uzman, Paul Ivan Yakolev, Flaviu Romanul, and many others. However, sometimes a single individual sets the tone, and while reading this book one gets the impression that that person was Derek Denny-Brown.

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