News Release 

Brain disease or mental illness? New book explores historical rift between neurology and psychiatry

UMass Amherst mathematician, acclaimed Harvard neurologist co-author second book

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

University of Massachusetts Amherst mathematician and science writer Brian David Burrell and Harvard Medical School neurologist Dr. Allan H. Ropper have co-authored a new book that confronts and explores the historical schism between brain disease and mental illness.

How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness (Avery, $27) examines how two different ailments - syphilis and hysteria - caused the fields of neurology and psychiatry to split and how that has informed today's debate over the role of the brain in mental illness.

"We wanted to write something that would place the role of the neurologist and the psychiatrist in historical perspective," says Burrell, "and we decided to tell the story through the lens of syphilis of the brain, a disease which straddles both domains."

With Dr. Ropper, Burrell co-wrote Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole, a Times of London best-seller, which recounts some of the medical mysteries the renowned neurologist faced on the neuro ward of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Despite advances in knowledge and technology, the authors point out that our understanding of the brain remains limited, leaving it unclear what separates a thriving mental life from a disturbed one.


Ropper is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and Raymond D. Adams Master Clinician of Neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He serves as deputy editor of the acclaimed New England Journal of Medicine.

In addition to his role as a mathematics faculty member at UMass Amherst, Burrell is an authority on brain collections and has authored several other books, including Postcards from the Brain Museum and The Words We Live By.

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