Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery” as Want to Read:
When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  6,968 ratings  ·  496 reviews
"This book should be read by every medical student, doctor and present or potential patient. In other words, by all of us."
--Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles

Rule One for the neurologist in residence: "You ain't never the same when the air hits your brain." In this fascinating book, Dr. Frank Vertosick brings that fact to life through intimate portra
Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 28th 1997 by Fawcett (first published 1996)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,968 ratings  ·  496 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery
Petra-X Off having adventures
This is the sort of book you think of long after you've finished. Some tales won't leave me. The six-week old little girl born with a brain tumour. Her teenage, indigent parents were told to go away and have another child as this one wouldn't leave hospital and wouldn't live long. So they went and never saw her again. But she lived for 18 months developing into a sunny, golden-haired child albeit one tube fed, on oxygen and paralysed. At one point the author didn't see her for six months but the ...more
Elyse  Walters
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Audiobook: memoir of a brain surgeon. Purchased as a 'daily special' ways back. I would have paid twice as much!!!!

We also are privy to the authors feelings, and moral concerns. The narrator's voice, Kirby Heyborne, felt so genuine. He was easy to be with -not an ounce of ego in his voice -- which allowed me to experience the greatness of Frank T. Vertosick Jr.

This story begin
Mar 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't put this book down. It was a brillant and an unvarnished retrospective on the author's difficult five years in medical residency for neurosurgery. The story has both great humor and pathos and I haven't both cried and laughed in the same sitting like I did with this book in as long as I can remember.

His "rules of neurosurgery" are particularly enjoyable:

1. You "ain't never" the same when the air hits your brain.
2. The only minor operation is one that someone else is doing.
3. If the p
Sonja Arlow
Failure instructs better than success

When does compassion stop being useful to a dying patient. When does morals and ethics get in the way of progress?

These are hard questions and the author does a brilliant job addressing this and showing the failures and triumphs of becoming a neurosurgeon.

He strikes the right balance between medicine and the human behind the mask.

It also shows the rivalry between different specialities in the medical profession. Why neurosurgeons look down their noses at inte
Sarah Milne
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this book. I liked the author's voice and style. I liked his narrative, and I liked his questioning. It's a great read, and an informative one.

Oh, and I really like his descriptions. Like this one:

“The soul’s tapestry lies woven in the brain’s nerve threads. Delicate, inviolate, the brain floats serenely in a bone vault like the crown jewel of biology. What motivated the vast leap in intellectual horsepower between chimp and man? Between tree dweller and moon walker? Is the brai
Ruthanne Johnston
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an amazing story! Dr. Vertosick, a neurosurgeon, wrote this book in the late '90's, but please don't let that deter your interest in reading it. Times have changed, neurosurgery has changed, but the basics are still there because our brains and nervous systems remain the same.
It's a portrait of a young physician/surgeon as he develops his skills, makes errors, slowly but sadly adopts the attitude of many surgeons, that of surgical psychopath. That designation simply means that he removes hi
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Fascinating, but brief. Worth noting for current readers, this was first published in 1977. I don't know how much the science has progressed, but pretty sure, significantly. Still--this is one doctor's experience, and he tells his story with a respect for the patient and the profession. It was good to be reminded that there are doctors who regard their patients with compassion. ...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Here in the U.S., we generally believe all surgeons are arrogant SOB’s. Vertosick’s book is proof that not all surgeons fit that mold. If you like memoir’s with a medical focus, this one is worth reading.

Full review at
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, non-fiction
I’m both fascinated and disturbed by this subject. I guess it’s fascinatingly disturbing. But the stories in this memoir of the author’s early training as a neurosurgeon are compelling and memorable. And he comes off very likable and humble to me, which makes him all the more intelligent, right?

Audible version is excellent.
Scot Parker
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: other-nonfiction
"You're never the same after the air hits your brain."

As the synopsis says, this book is a collection of stories from Dr. Vertosick's career as a neurosurgeon. If that sounds interesting to you, you'll like this book. The stories are engaging and fascinating, told in a compassionate, occasionally self-deprecating voice. I'm glad I read this.
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“Failure instructs better than success. A single death shapes the surgeon’s psyche in a way that fifty “saves” cannot.”

I loved this personal journey of a neurosurgeon from being a slightly naive but ambitious intern to a full qualified specialist. He guides us trough several cases he experienced in his career and certainly knows how to create tension. The cases he describes really stick with you and make you think. Dealing with children and pregnant woman with deadly brain tumors and similar re
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. This book covers some interesting subject matter. I think it would be an interesting read for people that are not in the medical field. The author does a good job of describing his experiences so that people can understand what he is talking about and be fascinated by what all is involved. There is some pretty emotional stuff in this book, and it takes a special kind of person to be a neurosurgeon, for sure! For people that are in the medical field and work in the hospital and see a l ...more
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: free-to-review
This was yesterday's audible daily deal and I thought to myself "that sounds intersting" I am so glad I decided to buy it, this book was more than interesting, it was fucking amazing! I learned, I laughed, and I cried my fucking eyes out at work. This book is more than just a look at the life of a neurosurgion, it is a look at life itself. I am not in a medical profession and have never had any interest in medicine at all, but I can not recommend this book enough! ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully interesting read about the life of a neurosurgeon, and the various cases he had.

It balances the human story and the science story perfectly, and I felt like I got a lot out of the book. Who knew cancerous cells basically reverted your cells back into the cells you had as a baby, before they matured?

I'll definitely look into more books about neurosurgery!
Ardon Pillay
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
A no holds barred account of the life of a neurosurgical resident in the 70s. Vertosick went through a training programme which would now be called inhumane, spending more than a hundred hours at a time in the hospital without going home.

However, he reflects on everything good that came out of this. The very tactile nature of neurosurgery demands practice and practice demands time. The hard work that he put in clearly paid dividends, as he learnt not just how to perform some immensely complex a
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, health
Vertosick lets readers tag along as he moves from medical student to intern to resident and up the chain of command supervising others in a hospital setting. Yes, his book provides interesting case studies full of technical detail. It also lets us see how surgeons are all-too-human: skill isn't innate, it comes with practice; there's a bit of infighting between neurologists and neurosurgeons; everyone's sleep deprived; there are hazing rituals; most surgeons are arrogant; and nobody is perfect. ...more
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
"When the air hits your brain you ain't never the same". How did I get through medical training without hearing this gem? Slightly reminiscent of "The House of God" (his Rules are just as funny as those in that book) but actually true, Vertosick describes incidents and episodes from his neurosurgical training which helped to shape him. What he says is truly funny in places, but he also writes about his thoughts (on becoming a neurosurgical psychopath, for example) in an entertaining but serious ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
i'm not a expert with words.. so i cant find words to describe how great of a book this one was❤️❤️❤️
a must read book, not only for medical personnel but for all
thanks dr Vertosick for sharing your experience with us 😊😊
Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)
Oh man do I have a better understanding of the world of brain surgery and it’s Drs. “When air hits your brain, you are never the same!”
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscience
The truth is, we don't appreciate enough the careless period of life when we have no health issues. But, perhaps that's the way life goes and we're trying to enjoy life as much as we can before the process of senescence starts peaking up. We like to think about our species as the top creation of the Nature, some even claim we're divine creatures. Yet, there're many them undecided between whether we are divine creatures, or only a thermonuclear waste. This duality of everything transcends our com ...more
 Sarah Lumos
Who knew neurosurgeons could be so funny? I even texted some of the humorous bits to my best friend, and when I am fangirling that hard, it is never a bad sign. Dr. Frank T. Vertosick Jr. - which is such a badass name - does not act like your conventional doctor. I always picture doctors as cerebral, serious, and compassionate types. And there is nothing wrong with that, but Vertosick’s awkward and witty persona is like John Green’s, whom I adore. My only qualm is that Vertosick does not write t ...more
Anthony Ferner
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical
Excellent account - for a lay reader - of what it's like to be a neurosurgeon in training. Not as elegantly written, perhaps, as Henry Marsh's Do No Harm, but equally illuminating if not more so. The detailed descriptions of operative procedures are stunningly good, and some of the case histories - e.g. the disaster of a ruptured aneurysm - read like nail-biting thrillers, often without happy outcomes. When things go wrong neurological disasters tend to be truly disastrous. One of the most inter ...more
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Just wish it had come with pictures/diagrams so I could better understand what he was describing. But as the author says, "its not about the technology, it isn't even really about the medicine. Its about the human aspect of the disease, the human dimension of those who suffer from it, and the human dimension of those neophytes, like me, who learn to treat it." ...more
Nima Morgan
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
everyone in the medical field should read this book...very fascinating. loved the detail and honesty.
Ally McCudden
I really love medical non fiction and memoirs. This one was an interesting look into the lives of neurosurgeons. I liked that this author didn’t take himself too seriously and called himself out when his behaviour wasn’t acceptable.
When he discusses his time practicing in the UK vs US, you really see how poor the US health system is and how patients are treated as both a dollar sign and statistic.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible retelling of real cases experienced by the doctor during his neurosurgical residency.
Nguyen Hoang Phong
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Real, gritty, human, humane.
Jim Goodrich
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Simply fantastic. This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love to read. I have always enjoyed learning about the intricacies of the human brain, which is why I enjoy books by Oliver Sacks. They are filled with interesting and fascinating stories about patients with neurological disorders. This book has some of that, interesting neurological patient histories, but it also adds in lots of the intense drama of the operating room. The writing is top notch and transports you into the shoes of ...more
India M. Clamp
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it

Vertosick reticulates his residency (3rd year) and the operating room becomes familiar---like our living room--- yet it’s a place where expletives fly, ego is extinct and truth is conveyed emotionless. Surgeon saying “F-you cookie monster” brings little to no reaction.

-Surgery should be the last option
-Time is the panacea

Vertosick is an astute storyteller and one of his tiny patients is a cute golden-haired baby and he says “she did not long for death, developed
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This doctor tells stories of his life as he goes through medical school and onto practicing as a neurosurgeon. Very insightful and heartwarming. He talks about how much some patients affected him and gives the stories of successful surgeries as well as failures and how these events changed him. He talks about the butterfly effect in his life. He was late signing up for a college major and chose a path that led him to go go medical school. A few minutes earlier and he would have been a computer p ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years
  • Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
  • In Stitches
  • Cook County ICU: 30 Years of Unforgettable Patients and Odd Cases
  • Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
  • Intern: A Doctor's Initiation
  • Trauma Room Two
  • Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis
  • Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
  • On Call: A Doctor's Days and Nights in Residency
  • Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon
  • Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
  • Confessions of a Surgeon: The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated...Life Behind the O.R. Doors
  • Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
  • Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs: The Making of a Surgeon
  • Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon
  • The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year
  • Trauma Junkie: Memoirs of an Emergency Flight Nurse
See similar books…
Frank T. Vertosick, Jr. is a neurosurgeon and is the author of three books: Why We Hurt, When the Air Hits Your Brain and Mind: A Unified Theory of Life and Intelligence which was previously published as: The Genius Within: Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing.

Related Articles

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
61 likes · 17 comments
“facts matter a great deal. What a patient does for a living, what his background is, what level of education he has achieved…all of these issues must be addressed in great detail in order to put his complaints and his disease in the proper context. If I ask a man to take the square root of 100 and he cannot, I might take this as proof of a left-hemispheric brain tumor, unless I know that he has worked on a farm since childhood and never attended school. Likewise, I might find it normal that a patient could not tell me the current exchange rate of the pound in Japanese yen. But if I knew that person was a merchant banker, on the other hand, ignorance of this fact would indicate a grave illness indeed! Americans have grown so dependent upon their scanning toys that they fail to view the patient as a multidimensional person. To have the audacity to cut into a person’s brain without the slightest clue of his life, his occupation…I find that most simply appalling.” These” 6 likes
“Failure instructs better than success. A single death shapes the surgeon’s psyche in a way that fifty “saves” cannot.” 6 likes
More quotes…