Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science

Fleischman, John.  Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science.  2002. 85pp. Lexile: 1030.  Available in paper.


In 1848, Phineas Gage, a 26-year-old explosives expert, had an accident that should have killed him.  A 3-foot-long metal rod was blasted by dynamite and went straight through his brain and out again.  Yet he was walking and talking almost immediately and lived twelve more years with fairly good health.  The strange thing is that his personality was said to have completely changed.  He went from being good with people and a popular supervisor, to being crude and hard to get along with. At the time, doctors had so little information about the human brain that they couldn’t explain what happened to him. As medicine became more sophisticated, doctors kept looking back over the years and studying the accounts of Gage and examining his skull, which was dug up some time after he was buried and preserved for study.  The narrative effectively uses Gage’s bizarre story to also convey a lot of information about the history of brain science.  


Reading Std #9 for grades 6-8: Compare/contrast texts on similar themes or topics.  Have students read the article, “Phineas Gage: Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient” by Steve Twomey in Smithsonian, January 2010 - 40 (10): 8–10Available here. Compare its view of Phineas Gage, based on recent discoveries, with that offered in the Fleischman book to find areas of disagreement or interpretation.