At the age of 37, Jill Bolte Taylor had reaped the benefits of a life passionately devoted to neuroscience. Motivated by her brother's struggle with Schizophrenia, Taylor often traveled to advocate for the donation of brains to science; and her work had paid off. She was successful, independent, and self-sufficient. So when she woke up on a seemingly ordinary day with a pain behind her left eye, it's little surprise that she attempted to go about her morning routine as usual. Taylor explains in detail the nuanced changes in her mental activity as her ability to grasp the world around her fades, and she slowly realizes she is having a stroke.
Taylor's narration of her memoir alternates from calm and steady to exuberant with insight. Her confidence and clarity as she recounts that morning in December of 1996 reflect her familiarity with the functioning of the brain. She articulates the gradual shutdown of her brain's systems, as her disposition transitions from indifference to panic. Taylor's description of the sensations of a brain losing its functionality is at once fascinating and utterly terrifying. To hear the terror unfold in her own voice makes this story especially intimate and moving. Taylor flickers between two contradictory modes of thinking; her left hemisphere, drowning from a ruptured AVM, tries to remind her she is suffering from stroke, while her right hemisphere, devoid of the normal chatter from the left-brain, experiences an increasing sense of nirvana and oneness with the universe. Taylor's narration reflects these opposing states of mind as her voice oscillates from a calm ambivalence to extreme distress and horror.
My Stroke of Insight is both an intense intellectual and spiritual work, with Taylor guiding her listener to a more self-conscious understanding of the way our minds construct our sense of reality. The book focuses on the morning of the stroke and the days and months following, with Taylor outlining what made her recovery possible. Undeniably the work of a scientist, Taylor remains as devoted to the study of the brain as she was before her stroke, while explaining the complexities of her subject with a clarity that makes it accessible even to those without a background in science. Her book is a rare look into stroke from the perspective of a woman uniquely qualified to describe it, and an inspirational and spiritual story of her journey to recovery. Erin Ikeler