An Extraordinary Journey Through the World's Strangest Brains
By Helen Thomson
How the mind works -- everything from memory to emotion, navigation to creativity -- explained in nine extraordinary human stories
'Wonderfully clear, fluent and eye-opening' THE TIMES
'A stirring scientific journey, a celebration of human diversity and a call to rethink the "unthinkable"' NATURE
'An utterly fascinating romp around the nether regions of the human mind' BIG ISSUE
IMAGINE . . . getting lost in a one-room flat; seeing auras; never forgetting a moment; a permanent orchestra in your head; turning into a tiger; life as an out-of-body experience; feeling other people's pain; being convinced you are dead; becoming a different person overnight.
Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathise and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced - or disappeared overnight?
Award-winning science writer Helen Thomson has spent years travelling the world tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people. From the man who thinks he's a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.
Delving into the rich histories of these conditions, exploring the very latest research and cutting-edge medical techniques, Thomson explains the workings of our consciousness, our emotions, our creativity and even the mechanisms that allow us to understand our own existence.
Story by remarkable story, Unthinkable takes us on an unforgettable journey through the human brain. Discover how to forge memories that never disappear, how to grow an alien limb and how to make better decisions. Learn how to hallucinate and how to make yourself happier in a split second. Find out how to avoid getting lost, how to see more of your reality, even how exactly you can confirm you are alive. Think the unthinkable.
Helen Thomson is a writer and consultant with New Scientist. She has also written for the Guardian, Daily Mail, BBC Future and Psychologies and has won various awards for her journalism.
Her research has taken her from coffee with five psychopathic mass murderers in Broadmoor to poking around in the Large Hadron Collider. She has exclusively revealed plans for the world's first head transplant, learned how to rule at roulette, had her fat zapped, scrubbed up for a cutting-edge prostate cancer operation and watched a paralysed man walk for the first time using a mind-controlled exoskeleton. But her greatest fascination remains writing about the brain, especially those that don't look like everyone else's.
Helen has a BSc in Neuroscience and an MSc in Science Communication. She lives in London. This is her first book.
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- Publication date:
10 Jan 2019
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This wonderfully clear, fluent, eye-opening book explores what happens when the mind misbehaves: distance is distorted, memory plays tricks, people hear in colour and see in music. Helen Thomson is the science teacher you wish you'd had at school . . . The unruliness of the misfiring brain is what makes Unthinkable so fascinating and so frightening . . . Thomson's book repays careful reading. Don't skip the science to get on to the well-I-never case histories. You need both together. And when the doctors Thomson interviews conclude, at the end of their examinations, that they simply cannot explain the weird workings of the brain, it isn't a "dunno" of defeat, but of wonder — THE TIMES
A stirring scientific journey, a celebration of human diversity and a call to rethink the 'unthinkable' — NATURE
Imagine turning into a tiger. Or getting permanently lost in your own one bedroom home. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares - but this is the engrossing subject of Thomson's exploration of extraordinary brains. With flair and empathy, the author sees her subjects in the context of their everyday lives, allowing us to marvel at their humanity . . . accessible, well researched, thought-provoking. Like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Unthinkable offers us a wondrous array of rare and weird disorders...This lucid and compelling book not only celebrates the incredible machinery we call the brain, it's also full of insights and invaluable tips. Thomson tells us how to forge memories that never disappear; how to grow an alien limb. And don't forget to make an animal noise next time you turn off the gas hob - it'll help you remember you've switched it off later in the day. We are our brains, and they are stranger than we think — TATLER
Refreshingly personal... humane and often humorous — EVENING STANDARD
Exceptional... From seeing auras and turning into a tiger, to waking up 'dead' and being able to remember every single day of your life in vivid detail, award-winning science journalist Thomson investigates wondrously rare and strange brain disorders in this terrific debut. While acknowledging her debt to the late, great Oliver Sacks, Thomson sets out to do things t differently by meeting her nine subjects not in clinical environments but as they live their daily lives with extraordinary brains. Theirs are mystery stories, spellbinding and true." — BOOKSELLER, Science Book of the Month
By including both clear explanations of research and interviews with her subjects about their lived experience, Thomson shows how our own brains might try to make sense of the world in the same ways, with fun experiments to trick ourselves into hallucinating or even believing we've an alien limb — Press Association
Fun facts are what make popular science popular. Helen Thomson's first book has a ready supply of them, and she is good at giving them context . . . there is much of interest here — Sunday Telegraph
By including both clear explanations of recent research and interviews with her subjects about their lived experience, Thomson show how our own brains might try to make sense of the world — SCOTSMAN
Thomson brings intellectual rigour to each subject, discussing history, causes, treatment and more, in what amounts to an utterly fascinating romp around the nether regions of the human mind — Big Issue
By the end of her journey Helen Thomson had certainly persuaded me to see the world differently — Observer