Friday, April 17, 2015

Module 12 Review - Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science / by John Fleischman.

Bibliographic Citation:

Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science. Boston, MA: Harcourt Mifflin Company.


Phineas Gage was a railroad construction foreman for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in Cavendish, Vermont in 1848. He was in charge of blasting through rock with a gunpowder explosive so that the other workers could pick their way through the mountain and railroad tracks could be laid.

On September 13, 1848, Gage was preparing to set off a blast when it is thought that his tamping iron struck the rock and caused a spark leading to the ignition and explosion of the gunpowder. When the explosion happened, Gage’s tamping iron pierced his left cheek and entirely exited through the frontal lobe of his brain. Amazingly, Gage was stunned but still able to walk and talk even though he had a gaping hole in his head and his brain was exposed.

He received medical treatment and made a full physical recovery. Unfortunately, the injury to his brain caused changes to his personality and adeptness in social situations. His doctor took him to Boston to be studied by others in the emerging field of brain science. He was the first live specimen these doctors had to examine following a traumatic brain injury and they were fascinated by his recovery and changes to his demeanor.

Phineas Gage lived another eleven years after his accident. Even though he has been dead for more than 150 years, he has continued to impact the field of science. His skull and tamping iron remain on display at Harvard University.


The detail provided about Phineas Gage and his accident are very interesting. He was a very lucky man to have survived such a traumatic accident, and even though his personality and sociability were impacted, he was physically fine.

The medical background on the study of brain science is also interesting, but a little dense for any person not particularly interested in the medical field. This young adult biography would be an excellent resource for students completing a project on brain science and its history or for students interested in the medical field.

Library Use Suggestions:

I would present this book as a research option for biology or anatomy classes at the high school level. I would also recommend it to students interested in the medical profession.


Gruesome indeed: in 1848, an explosion blew a 13-pound iron rod through railroad worker Gage’s head. Not only did he survive, he never even lost consciousness, going on to become a medical marvel and to live almost another dozen years. Was Gage lucky, or just the opposite? Carefully separating fact from legend, Fleischman traces Gage’s subsequent travels and subtle but profound personality changes, then lets readers decide. Writing in present tense, which sometimes adds immediacy, other times just comes across as artificial, Fleischman fleshes out the tale with looks at mid-19th-century medicine, the history of brain science, and how modern researchers have reconstructed Gage’s accident with high-tech tools. He also adds eye-widening photos of Gage’s actual skull (now at Harvard), his life mask, and dramatic rod-through-bone computer images that, as the author writes, will make you wince “whether you’re a brain surgeon or a sixth grader.” Readers compelled to know more—and that should be just about everyone—will find a helpful, annotated list of print and electronic sources at the end of this riveting (so to speak) study.

(2002, February 15). [Review of Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from

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