Memoirs and Biographies

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaTen Years a NomadThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThings We Didn't Talk About When I Was a GirlThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor

Related Topics
Half a Brain Is EnoughReview - Half a Brain Is Enough
The Story of Nico
by Antonio M. Battro
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Review by M. Allen
Jul 15th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 29)

Battro's book recounts the case of Nico, a student and subject at his research laboratory.  The author, a cognitive psychologist interested in educational and developmental issues associated with brain trauma, meditates upon what that case may mean for various theories of human mental life and development.  Nico, born with a congenital defect of the right half of his brain , suffered from partial motor paralysis to his left side and debilitating epilepsy before, at age 4 years, undergoing a functional hemispherectomy.  In this procedure, doctors removed areas of his cortex and all of the temporal lobe on the right side.  The remaining portions of the right hemisphere were left intact but completely disconnected from the brain stem and left brain, effectively reducing his brain matter by one half.  Obviously, this is an extreme intervention, and a rare one; Battro estimates that there are perhaps 100 persons worldwide who have undergone such an operation. 

From a medical point of view, the operation was a success, producing a complete cessation of seizures.  More importantly yet, and as the title of the book suggests, Nico appears to have lost very little, if anything, in the process.  Indeed, he retained his ability to speak throughout the recovery period, and was up and walking again within days of the surgery.  Although some difficulties persist in terms of left-sided vision and motor control, Nico shows no further evidence of disability, despite what initially seems a profound neurological loss.  Indeed, Battro recounts that he was deeply surprised to learn of Nico's exact condition after the boy was brought to him for therapy.  Nico, he reports, is an eminently likable boy, and furthermore an intelligent one, attending the usual classes for a child his age, and placing at the top among his peers in terms of both spoken and written language.

These observations lead Battro to his central question:  "How can half a brain sustain a full mind?" (5).  As he points out, the half-brained person who retains nearly full capacity raises a number of hard questions for theories relating "sidedness" to specific brain functions, and connecting brain size directly to capacity.  His point is made quite strongly when he reminds us that a half-brained person like Nico actually has less functioning brain matter than does the average microcephalic, but without any of the attendant serious deficits.  Since Nico, age 9 at the time of writing, has shown normal acquisition of mental skills, his case poses a serious challenge to any theory that would too simplistically link usual brain-structure development to this acquisition process.  Battro argues,

that hemispherectomy is more than a neurological lesion...  [but] amounts to rebuilding a new brain [as the] half hemisphere is functionally transformed into a whole brain again (25).

Indeed, the case study here is an interesting puzzle that deserves to be considered by anyone interested in relations between learning and mental capacity.  That a half-brained child can develop more or less normally suggests a number of lines of thought.  It might be argued, for instance, that the right half of the brain, which Nico lost, is pretty much unnecessary, and that the advanced "mental organs" are all in the left half, or that the brain contains massive redundancy, with functional areas duplicated in each half.  In either case, such a claim raises many puzzles about the brain's efficiency and design.  Another issue concerns the mechanism that forces (or even allows) the compensatory development seen in Nico's case.  At present, such a mechanism is not clearly understood; one particular question about it would be why some patients, with seemingly far less serious local brain lesions, never recover their individual capacities, whereas Nico was able to recover nearly everything even after his drastic cortical sacrifice.

One of the virtues of Battro's book is that he never suggests that he has answers to these questions where he does not.  Instead, he wants simply to point out where these puzzles arise, and to suggest the great and fundamental mysteries that persist when it comes to our understanding of the brain. 

The book is not highly technical, and is suited to the general reader, and at the same time contains detailed notes, with pointers to relevant literature, for those interested in following up on the scientific and medical issues raised in greater depth. 

At the same time, the book is not without its positive platform.  Battro is particularly interested in the use of computers as educational aids for children facing developmental challenges; however, those parts of the book that recount some of his ideas and experiences in this area are suggestive, but ultimately less satisfying.  On the one hand, he writes convincingly about the benefits of computers for someone like Nico—for instance, while his motor skills make handwriting difficult, the use of a computer keyboard allows him to demonstrate his real capacity for written language.  On the other hand, his enthusiasm for computers and other "neural prostheses" leads him to some more debatable suggestions, and to some leaps in argumentation.  For Battro, the fact that "the human cortex is so well-endowed as to be able to accomplish the same cognitive feats with only half of its neurons," implies that it might then be possible, "with the help of some external computational aids, for the brain to attain incredible levels of competence" (12).  This is interesting, but puzzling.  Battro never commits himself to any particular understanding of what is meant by an "incredible" level of human cognitive ability, nor does he claim that such ability would necessarily follow from the use of computers.  Still, the contained implication that technological advances can lead to expanded human mental ability goes beyond the little evidence he provides, and does not obviously follow from the natural healing processes evidenced in Nico.  Furthermore, the idea of "untapped abilities" in the brain reminds this reader of the sorts of naive theories of human mental ability—the mythical belief, for instance, that human brains use only some small percentage of their real capacity—that Battro himself calls into question.

Furthermore, Battro's arguments about the use of computers rely on a somewhat dubious distinction.  In his later chapters, he describes the sort of "cortical shift" apparently induced by technologically-mediated interactions with the world, making much of what he calls the "different cognitive strategies" involved in the use, for instance, of word processing programs rather than other means of producing written language.  But the distinction, drawn on page 59, between Nico's use of a "machine" in his connection to the environment, rather than what Battro calls "the handwriting shortcut," seems to overstate the advance represented by the switch to computer composition.  Battro does not make clear why use of a computer is not simply the use of a different machine than employed when one uses pen and ink, or indeed any writing tool.  While computers are clearly different than other mechanical aids in their particulars, it is not clear that this difference is one that makes a difference.  While Battro raises some interesting possibilities when he considers the use of computers to allow persons to perform tasks they otherwise could not, or using different modalities than usual—programs that allow persons to draw pictures using written commands, for instance—the claim that this points to a fundamental alteration in human cognitive abilities is neither convincing, nor completely clear, and occasionally slips into metaphors, like the "brain wide web," which obscure more than they reveal.  All in all, the book's positive proposals are less interesting than the many questions it raises.

Finally, it should be noted that Half a Brain Is Enough can be somewhat unsatisfying.  A slim volume at only 90 pages of text, it contains far more recapitulation than is necessary or desirable in such a short work.  Each chapter reads as if it may have once been a stand-alone piece, and this induces an experience of repetitiveness.  As indicated, it does raise a number of interesting questions, and so can provide a fine starting place for someone interested in cognitive and developmental psychology.  At the same time, however, more facts concerning the case—particularly about Nico's process of cognitive development—could easily have been included, even in this short space, by excluding some of the repeated materials, and probably ought to have been.  Battro's style, too, will not be to all reader's tastes.  He speaks in the personal and narrative manner that has become popular after the success of the case-study style popularized most notably by Oliver Sacks; unfortunately, Nico's personality is not rendered with the literary eye to detail of that authour, and so the boy remains something of an abstraction.  As a result, while those looking for a purely scientific recounting of a medical case may be put off by the personal tone, those looking for an engaging presentation of the human character of the half-brained condition are also likely to find themselves wanting more than they are given.


© 2002 M. Allen


M. Allen is an ABD student in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, currently working on the subject of formal similarities between various apparently distinct logical systems.  In addition, he is pursuing a second graduate degree in computer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  His interests include theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, particularly resource-bounded reasoning.


Welcome to Metapsychology.

Note that Metapsychology will be moving to a new server in January 2020. We will not put up new reviews during the transition. We thank you for your support and look forward to coming back with a revised format.

We feature over 8300 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our Google Group!

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716