We take it for granted that the brain is the seat of our minds, the part of our body that is most ourselves. 500 years ago, Europeans, if they thought about the brain at all, took it much less seriously - whether it was a refrigerator or a pump, it was seen as little more than a mechanism, its only products tears and snot.
Among the revolutions of the seventeenth century was a revolution on the understanding of the brain and mind. It's central figure was a 17th century Englishman called Thomas Willis. To him, we owe our modern understanding of the miracle that is the human brain, the first dissections of the skull and the word 'psychology'.
Zimmer's new book tells Willis' story against the background of Civil War, regicide and Restoration. Set in London and Oxford, we see the context of Willis' researches and dissections, meet his famous friends, the founders of the Royal Society, Boyle, Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren, who attneded Willis' dissections and sketched the results.
Few stories in the history of science are as importatn and fascinating - and as little-known - as this one.