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The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head by Todd Pliss

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Hole In His Head

 

The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head by Todd Pliss

Phineas Gage changed the world in 1848. Unfortunately, it did take the world a while to notice. Don’t know who Phineas Gage was? You may remember him from that Psychology course you took way back when. While  blasting rock for the railroad in September of ‘48, he blew a tamping iron clean through his head, destroying most of his frontal lobe. Now workplace accidents happen, but what was amazing about this one is that Phineas survived. He lost an eye and he wasn’t quite the same man anymore, everyone said so. Still, he was alive, walking around with part of his brain gone.

His doctor, Dr. John Martyn Harlow, spent years trying to get the medical establishment to even believe that Gage had been injured as badly as he was. He spent years trying to get everyone to understand just how little we actually knew about the brain and its functions. Gage’s accident changed his life as well.  This book is just as much his story, maybe even more so than it is Gage’s.

Todd Pliss has made both men’s jump out of the pages in his book. Reading about Gage in textbooks, you were never able to get a bead on the man. Sure, they give you the basics, but by taking the facts and wrapping it up with some nice historical fiction wrapping, both men become human. So deftly done, there were times that I totally lost myself and needed a reminder that the book was indeed historical fiction.

As part of the tour, I asked Todd Pliss a question or two.

1. What was it, besides the obvious, that drew you to Phineas Gage?

I have always been a history buff and possess my teaching credentials in the social
sciences. My mom sent me a newspaper – printed up like an old-time paper from
the 19th Century, with stories included from that time. One of the stories was about
Phineas Gage and the doctor who had treated him, Dr. John Harlow, who had
been ridiculed by his colleagues for his published findings on the case. Like most
people, I was vaguely aware of the case, having learned about it in science class,
but didn’t really know the whole story and the aftermath of the accident. The more
I researched it, the more I was convinced it would make a gripping “based-on-a-
true-story” novel.

2. So much of a historical event isn’t just about the event itself,
but how it changes the outcomes of the participant’s lives. I think
that is what I appreciated about your book, that it was also about Dr.
Harlow and how Phineas changed him. Was highlighting his dealings with
Phineas and how his life turned out in your original plan/outline or did
it grow organically?

Going into detail about Dr. Harlow’s experiences and how having Phineas as a
patient changed him was always part of the plan and what originally helped draw
me to the project. The story was not only about Phineas, who died in 1860, but
how in the aftermath of Phineas’s death, John Harlow was able to find redemption.

There are so many times that we learn the basics of a story, but don’t get to know the people involved. The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head brings you out of the text book and allows you a pretty good look directly into Gage’s good eye. (couldn’t resist the pun)

Somewhat OT, but this book reminded me of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin . Both books bring the human factor into their subjects so strongly that you run to see if there are any other books about them.

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The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head by Todd Pliss

 

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: S.B. Addison Books (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983868170

 

 

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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Bumble July 16, 2012, 12:26 pm

    I believe quite a bit of this story was discussed in Devil In The White City – wherever it was that I read about this man and his doctor, I remember being amazed by what little we know of ourselves and that brain of ours!

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