Headhunters

Headhunters

The Pioneers of Neuroscience

Summary

How did the human brain evolve? Why did it evolve as it did? What is man’s place in evolution? In the final decades of the nineteenth century, these questions began to occupy scientists. With Darwin’s theory of evolution now accepted, modern neuroscience began.

Headhunters traces the intellectual journey of four men who met at Cambridge in the 1890s and whose lives interlinked for the next three decades – William Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Myers and William McDougall. It follows their voyages of discovery, taking the reader from anthropological field studies in Melanesia and archaeological excavations in Egypt to the psychiatric wards of the First World War. Their work ranged across fields that today carry a variety of labels – neurology, psychology, psychiatry, zoology – but which for these men formed part of the same enquiry: the search for a science of the mind.

A narrative-driven work of intellectual history and a compelling biographical study, Headhunters explores the big ideas about the brain, the nervous system and man’s place in history. In the process the book reveals how science actually works – the passions, the irrational flashes, the moments of insight; the big ideas that work – and the big ideas that turn out to be wrong. Acclaimed historian Ben Shephard takes the reader on an extraordinary intellectual journey – and arrives at some very modern destinations.

Reviews

  • Arrestingly original and beautifully written
    John Gray, Literary Review

About the author

Ben Shephard

Ben Shephard read History at Oxford University. He was a producer on the television series The World at War and The Nuclear Age and has made numerous historical and scientific documentaries for the BBC and Channel Four. He is the author of the critically acclaimed A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994 and After Daybreak: The Liberation of Belsen, 1945. He lives in Bristol.
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