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Book Talk: Phineas Gage by John Fleischman

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain ScienceMeet Phineas Gage. Right now he is a skull on display at Harvard but in 1848 he was the foreman of a railroad construction crew. He used a tool called a “tamping iron”, which looks a lot like a spear, and it was his job to blast the rocks into small pieces that could be removed. In order to do this, a hole would have to be drilled into the rock. The hole would be “charged” by filling the bottom with gun powder. Phineas would use the pointy end of his tamping iron to press a fuse into the powder and someone else would fill the rest of the hole with loose sand that would act as a plug. Phineas would then use the round end of the iron to tamp the sand in tight before lighting the fuse.
This day, however, something went awry. The sand was not poured into the hole and when Phineas’ tamping iron slid into the hole, it hit the explosive, sparking, and the tamping iron turned into an oversize bullet that traveled right through Phineas’ left cheek and burst straight out the top of his head. Miraculously, Phineas did NOT die until the year 1860 but he was never the same. Phineas survived his brain injury but his personality was never the same. Phineas Gage’s horrible accident unknowing taught scientist volumes about how the brain functions.
What do you know about the brain and how it works? What would happen to you if had a brain injury or if a piece of your brain was missing? What if a piece of iron shot right through your head? Would it be a miracle if you lived? Would you be a different person afterward?

Why I picked it up: I love to take this to classes and talk about Phineas’s accident. The boys love the brains and blood. We needed something different for book club and I thought it would be fun to try.

Why I finished it: I love the style of writing, narrative mixed with facts.

I’d give it to: teens and adults who love to learn, especially boys.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (Really Liked It)

Want to read it? Click here to place the book on hold!

Review by Jenn, YA Librarian (View all my Goodreads reviews)

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