John Fleischman, who is now the science writer for the American Society for Cell Biology and a magazine freelancer whose work appears in Discover, Muse, and Air & Space Smithsonian, was working in public affairs at Harvard Medical School when he wrote Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science. Phineas Gage was truly a man with a hole in his head. Gage, a railroad construction foreman, was blasting rock near Cavendish, Vermont, in 1848 when a thirteen-pound iron rod shot through his head. Miraculously, he survived to live another eleven years and become a textbook case in brain science. At the time, Phineas Gage seemed to completely recover from his accident. He could walk, talk, and travel but he was changed. Gage “was no longer Gage,” said his Vermont doctor, meaning that the old Phineas was dependable and well liked and the new Phineas was crude and unpredictable. His case astonished doctors in his day and continues to fascinate doctors today. Students of neurology and psychology study Gage's case because it illustrates how the lobes of the frontal cortex — the area damaged by the tamping iron — are the seat of the “executive functions,” which are a person's abilities to predict, to decide, and to interact socially. Complete with full-color photographs, a glossary, index, and a guide to resources, Phineas Gage will tell you a lot about how your brain works and how you act human.
Fleischman recalls, “Everyone at Harvard — and in brain science — knows the story. At the time, my office was about a hundred yards away from the skull. When my editor at Houghton Mifflin, Amy Flynn, accepted the book, the people in public affairs were amazed that a children's publisher would take on such a subject. I was too. But I knew that kids of a certain age were fascinated by this kind of thing. I call them kids with 'healthy morbid interests.' I'm still in awe of the enthusiasm that Phineas seems to attract from all sorts of people, from kids to neuroscientists.” In addition to writing for science publications, Fleischman was a senior editor at Yankee and Ohio magazines. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and a greyhound named Psyche.