Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Review: My Stroke of Insight
I was very excited to read this month’s selection for my local Book Club, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. The author, a thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, had a stroke when a blood vessel in the left side of her brain exploded. My Stroke of Insight is Taylor’s story of what happened the day of her stroke, her subsequent recovery and the lessons about herself learned from this experience.
In the end, though, I was really disappointed by the book. This was a very quick read for me (the hardcover clocks in at 184 pages including the appendices) and it shows. Taylor, I felt, only lightly skimmed over most topics. For example, while Taylor has two brief chapters describing the science of the brain, it is done in the simplest way possible, perhaps even to the point of having dumbed the science down. Once the scientific explanation was out of the way, I felt like Taylor ignored further opportunities in the course of telling her story to return to the science and explain how the anatomy covered earlier tied into the events happening. I am all for making the science understandable to the lay-person but not at the expense, I thought, of fuller explanations.
As a point of full disclosure, and because I understand that I may be somewhat unusual in wanting more science, I should say that my husband is a professor of anatomy and frequently lectures on neuroanatomy. I, however, am most definitely not a scientist and not an anatomy expert myself.
The latter portion of the book is devoted to the insights Taylor had about herself and her brain from having a stroke. In a nutshell, the big insight is this: inner peace is available to anyone because it’s already in your brain and if you would just get out of your own way by meditating, you would be happier. While this is a lovely insight, I was really annoyed by the amount of time Taylor spent on this topic, considering the libraries devoted this subject, when in the end, I don’t really think she added anything new to the discussion. Once again, I feel like she just glossed over how to, as she calls it, step to the right of our left brains. The pages devoted to how to meditate are, in my opinion, perfunctory and yet also a waste of space when there are so many other resources out there about meditation (including other books; an Amazon search for "how to meditate" pops up 4,356 books).
I think that as a scientist, Taylor had an opportunity to create something really special. I had eagerly hoped for something along the lines of A Leg to Stand On by the great Oliver Sacks and in the chapters about the day of her stroke, Taylor comes close. Otherwise, I think there was too much focus on new age glossiness and not enough on substance.
Disappointment aside, I do think there is one group of people for whom this book will be very helpful: family and friends of stroke victims who have lost the ability to speak for themselves. While Taylor makes it clear that every stroke is different, I think this book could be very helpful for anyone who is at loss of how to interact with a person in recovery from a stroke.