Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 14, 2009

Gage, Hunt and some more

Recently, I borrowed the book The Greatest Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer, from the Auckland City Library. My penchant for non-fiction reading attracts me to many such books and I was not disappointed with this one. The book contains interesting facts in its pages about people, some of whom I have known and some I did not. These stories left me in awe. The book, published in America does not really restrict itself and covers as much of the world it can. Lucid writing, quotations, pictures make the statement of facts an enjoyable read. Despite not being a seriously analytical book on the subject, this kind of books I am sure helps generate interest on the subject among people who hardly read these days. I quite miss watching History Channel here since cable television is an expensive proposition. When we were young, quizzing made us interested in reading about the past but I wonder if those quizzes still happen in India. Therefore, I normally resort to borrowing books from the library and reading magazine such as BBC History Magazine.

One of the facts from the book which I found especially interesting is about Phineas Gage . A work accident in 1848, lead an iron rod to enter Gage, on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head. However, to everyone’s utter surprise though Gage became unconscious immediately after the accident, he stood up within few minutes and started talking. However, from that day onwards Gage underwent an acute behavioural change and turned into a different man altogether. The book says, Gage’s friends and doctors said once a nice man and well-behaved man Gage though physically recovered quickly enough turned into a mental wreck and behaved inconsistently. Events following Gage’s accident and his subsequent death lead to research into the functioning of the brain wherein it was identified that different parts of the brain are responsible for humans exhibiting different kind of behaviour.

Gage’s accident is still under lot of discussion in the medical fraternity and his skull is still an exhibit in the Harvard Medical School’s Warren Anatomical Museum. You can read about Gage, if you want to from the wikipedia link that I have provided in the post.

Also interesting was the story of Walter Hunt – a mechanic who was a prolific inventor. Wikipedia link would enlighten you about how prolific he really was, but the interesting bit was despite being such a talented individual Hunt did not make any money. He could not ever forsee the usage of his inventions and either he did not patent them (as in the case of sewing machine which he thought would give rise to unemployment) or sold the patent for paltry sum (as in the case of safety pin for paying up a debt of $15). Apparently, Hunt invented safety pin in a four hour sitting on his garden when he was bored and was toying with a small wire!

I am yet to finish the book and may write about some more interesting things that I read.

Postscript: Not always such an incident happens after I write a post. The author of the book, Rick Beyer was very kind to read the review and leave a comment on my post. I shall encourage history lovers to read his interesting blog available here. I shall learn reading Rick’s work and hope you enjoy them too.



  1. Thanks for the kind words. Glad to see that you are enjoying the book.

    The most uplifting and amazing part of your entry is to discover that one of my books is in the Auckland library, only 8982 miles from here in Lexington, MA. I can honestly say that when writing this book it never occurred to me that one day it would be available all over the world, and translated into a number of other languages (including my favorite, Bulgarian.) I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, which focuses on inventors. Some truly great stories there!

    Stay well, and thanks for spreading the word.

    Rick Beyer

  2. It’s obviously a good book you are reading, Tanmoy, and it was very nice of Mr. Beyer to write that little note of thanks, but – without wishing to sound critical – I wonder why the book should be titled ‘…stories never told, seeing that Gage’s story is very well-known, for instance – I have read about it in several places, including, if memory serves me right, Reader’s Digest (either the magazine or one of their coffe-table books).

  3. … and I’m sorry about the typos in that last comment!

  4. I think I agree with Suvro on ‘stories never told’… But I think I will find the book interesting nonetheless… Will try to look for it in the bookstores here in the Philippines…


  5. Very interesting, I will give a try in Oxford’s here.

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