December 30, 2003
Soul Made Flesh is the remarkable untold story of a dramatic turning point in history – the exciting discovery of how the human brain works. In an unprecedented examination of how the secrets of the brain were revealed in seventeenth-century England, award-winning author Carl Zimmer tells an extraordinary tale that unfurls against the deadly backdrop of civil war, plague, and the Great Fire of London. At the beginning of that turbulent century, no one knew how the brain worked or even what it looked like intact. By the century’s close, the science of the brain had taken root, helping to overturn many of the most common misconceptions and dominant philosophies about man, God, and the universe. Presiding over the rise of this new scientific paradigm was the founder of modern neurology, Thomas Willis, a fascinating, sympathetic, even heroic figure who stands at the center of an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers known as the Oxford circle. Chronicled here in vivid detail are their groundbreaking revelations and often gory experiments that first enshrined the brain as the chemical engine of reason, emotion, and madness – indeed as the very seat of the human soul.
He called “as fine a science essayist as we have” by The New York Times, Zimmer tells the story of this scientific revolution through the lives of a colorful array of alchemists, mystics, utopians, spies, revolutionaries, and kings. He re-creates the religious, ethical, and scientific struggles involved in the pioneering autopsies of the brain carried out by Thomas Willis; the discovery of the circulation of blood by William Harvey and his flight from London with his besieged king, Charles I; René Descartes’s persecution by Catholics and Protestants alike for his views of the brain and soul; and the experiments and personal dramas of gifted men who forever changed the way science is practiced as they simultaneously upended our view of our human selves and our place in the world.
In this distant mirror to our own time of continuing scientific revolution and worldwide social upheaval, Zimmer brings to life the painstaking, innovative discoveries of Willis and his contemporaries – the taproots of the amazing work of today’s neuroscientists, who continue to explore the brain, revealing the hidden workings of emotions, memories, and consciousness. Graced with beautiful illustrations by Christopher Wren, Soul Made Flesh conveys a contagious appreciation for the wonder of the brain, its structure, its many marvelous functions, and the implications for human identity, mind, and morality. It is the definitive history of the dawn of a world-changing science and attitude – the age of the brain and modern consciousness.
Carl Zimmer’s work appears regularly in The New York Times, National Geographic, Newsweek, Discover, Natural History, and Science. A John S. Guggenheim Fellow, he has also received the Pan-American Health Organization Award for Excellence in International Health Reporting and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award. His previous books include Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; Parasite Rex; and At the Water’s Edge. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.