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Edited by Chris Code, Claus-W Wallesch, Yves Joanette and Andre Roch Lecours. Published by Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, Hove, 2002, pp 340, £39.95. ISBN 0-86377-891-7
Why read the classics? If you’re still not sure why it might be worth bothering, this book would really be wasted on you. Better that it should fall into the hands of someone who really appreciates that modern neurology and neuropsychology owes an enormous amount to the careful descriptions of single cases. And, despite the whizz and bang of functional imaging, this is likely to continue to be the case.
In this volume, you will find discussion of Babinski’s cases of anosognosia for hemiplegia, Wernicke’s case of conduction dysphasia, Goldstein and Gelb’s description of form agnosia, Dejerine’s case of alexia without agraphia, and many other gems from the distant past. But, in addition, you will also be pleasantly surprised to see more recent “classics” such as Bisiach and Luzzatti’s descriptions of right hemisphere Milanese patients who, when recalling from one imagined vantage point their famous Piazza del Duomo (the city’s central square), reported places that would appear to their right, neglecting those to their left. But, when asked to imagine turning round, they failed to report locations they had previously mentioned and described instead places that now fell to their right from this new viewpoint. This description of “representational neglect” has had a profound impact both on stimulating research into the neglect syndrome and understanding the nature of mental representations of space.
Of course, the qualities of the contributing chapters do vary considerably but the subject matter that is covered in this collection is wide ranging, and also entertaining. The chapters that work well are those that place their case study in their historical, as well as scientific context. There are important lessons here, for instance, about the dedication and obsessional nature of some neurologists. Dejerine, for example, himself carried out the postmortem on his patient with pure alexia within 24 hours of his death—at the patient’s home. He clearly wanted to find out how the lesion location differed from that of a patient he had reported on the previous year who had alexia with agraphia, and no administrative difficulties at any hospital were going to prevent him!
This is a great book, well worth reading for pleasure and for learning about some of the most important cases that have shaped our understanding of higher cortical function.
Why read the classics? Why be a neurologist.