Infiltrating the world of neuroscience, Dennis Cass offers up his own brain to "research," subjecting his mind and body to electric shocks, mind-numbing attention experiments, cigarettes, stress tests of his own devising, and the comedy of Bill Maher. Like a slightly off-kilter George Plimpton, Cass, in his daring exploits, reveals the intricacies of fear, attention, stress, reward, and consciousness from the inside out. Along the way, he weaves in the story of his stepfather's manic depression and drug addiction, in addition to his own problems—which are many. Cass attacks the subject of the human brain with wit and candor, turning popular science into something distinctly human. Head Case is an imperative read for anyone who has ever wondered, Why am I who I am?
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Dennis Cass has been a journalist for ten years, writing for Harper's, Spin, Mother Jones, and Slate.com. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and son.From Publishers Weekly:
When writer's block threatened to interfere with Cass's career as a freelance journalist, he decided the solution would be to learn everything he could about how the brain works. He soon fancies himself an amateur scientist, embarking on a spree of experimentation, self-diagnosing himself with attention deficit disorder and scoring a prescription to Adderall, which helps at first but then starts messing up his mind. As Cass makes clear from the outset, the journalistic enterprise is fraught with emotional turbulence because it forces him to confront his family history, especially his stepfather's manic depression. Yet for all the outward appearances of candor—Cass, a former columnist for GQ and Slate, speaks freely of humiliating childhood experiences as well as of his adult jealousy of more successful writers like Malcolm Gladwell—it still feels like he's holding back. The science elements of the book are also insufficiently developed, especially when writers like Steven Johnson and Daniel Pink have already effectively staked out the genre of first-person guided tours of neuroscience. At times, Cass comes off as genuinely uncomfortable with what his research tells him about his brain and himself, leaving readers wishing he'd pushed harder to get a richer story. (Mar.)
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