Review of ‘Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: Extraordinary Journeys into the Human Brain’ by Allan Ropper and B D Burrell

A fascinating book about neurology, which is the study of medical conditions of the brain and nervous system. The author (there are two authors, but it’s written from the perspective of Dr Ropper) examines the diagnoses of various cases, most notably with a focus on motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s. The patients all have their identities changed, except for his most famous patient, Michael J Fox.

Book cover is pale blue and shows rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

I liked how the hectic career of a neurologist was described, although as it’s set in the United States (mostly in a Boston hospital) the doctors’ hierarchies and the way the American healthcare system works weren’t very interesting to me. I felt that the title of the book was somewhat misleading, as surprisingly little was explained about how the brain works and what goes on inside it. The focus was on using a variety of signs and symptoms, some external and others by tests, to diagnose neurological conditions. I wasn’t especially keen on the narrative voice, which came across as a bit smug and judgmental, particularly towards female patients. However, it was a very informative read and generally I was kept turning the pages, except towards the end when the structure of the book became fuzzy. As far as books about medicine go, it’s not one of the best-written I’ve encountered, but I appreciated the insight into neurology. There are some very emotional moments during which the doctors demonstrate their professional distance, which prevents this being an overly distressing read. Despite the title of the book and the image of the White Rabbit on the cover, the references to Alice in Wonderland are very few and perhaps the authors should have made more of it.

Published by Atlantic Books, 2014.

Leave a Reply