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The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms
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The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  64 reviews
In 1991, the police were called to East 72nd St. in Manhattan, where a woman's body had fallen from a twelfth-story window. The woman s husband, Herbert Weinstein, soon confessed to having hit and strangled his wife after an argument, then dropping her body out of their apartment window to make it look like a suicide. The 65-year-old Weinstein, a quiet, unassuming retired ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Penguin Press
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Kevin Davis The research, reporting and writing for this book was a constant journey of discovery during which I found connections among people, stories and histo…moreThe research, reporting and writing for this book was a constant journey of discovery during which I found connections among people, stories and history that I had never known. For example, I had never heard the story of William Freeman, the former slave who was represented on murder charges by William Seward, who later became President Lincoln’s secretary of state. Seward presented a form of "the brain defense" on Freeman's behalf. Freeman had suffered a terrible traumatic brain injury at the hands of prison guard who beat him on the head with a board. Freeman was serving time on a wrongful conviction for stealing a horse. I also learned of an attorney in Florida who routinely asks to scan every one of this clients’ brains. (less)

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Dave Cullen
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much in galleys that it's the only book I agreed to blurb this year. I guess I'll post that here, since it forced me to be succinct:

The Brain Defense is a stirring ride into a fascinating new field. Can a tumor or traumatic brain injury explain rape or murder? Can they diminish culpability? If your instinct screams no, read page one. The first staggering case will challenge your assumptions; the book that follows may alter them permanently. The vividness and urgency of Kevin
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book bad over 35% of it notes and sources. The last of the written chapters ended at around 62% and the rest was references and notes. That shows that it is well researched and the chapters alternate between the key case in the book and the history and development of neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and its relationship to the law.

In 1991, Herbert Weinstein a sixty-five-year-old advertising executive with no prior history of crime or violence after an argument strangled his wife Barbar
I have been very interested in the subject of traumatic brain injuries since my husband had a home accident in 2008, which caused him life-threatening head injuries. He has since recovered and is doing very well with zero side effects (other than a metal plate in his head.) However his brain surgeon wanted me to keep a close watch on him for personality changes. When I read a review of Kevin Davis's new book "The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtr ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it liked it
This book explores the intersection between neuroscience and the law. Can and should lawyers use CAT Scans & PET Scans as evidence of brain disorders to mitigate the degree of criminal responsibility? What I liked: 1. The complicated material was well described. 2. I loved the case studies and real life situations. For example, a retired mild mannered man strangles his wife and throws her off a 13 story building. They discover he had a has a brain tumor, so is he guilty? The book keeps revisitin ...more
Pam Mooney
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and well researched with plenty of notes to support and follow up. I have read of these cases casually and enjoyed very much hearing the medical history and true story behind the scenes. Very comprehensive in the cases presented that involve neuroscience from criminal defense and prosecution perspective. I loved the presentation of each case as a story that you follow from inception to conclusion. I was drawn in and read straight through. A good read.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Disclosure: I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway.

I really enjoyed this book. I have always wanted to read books on landmark cases, so this is a good introduction. I would say for the most part that the author is objective in regard to this topic which can be rare these days. This book was way better than I anticipated. I am a layman in regards to law and neuroscience, but the author did a stellar job explaining various terms. I will look into this author's future releases; as long as, they
Christina Dudley
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
While this book covered ground I've traveled in other brain books (the ubiquitous Phineas Gage puts in his usual appearance), it took the unique angle of tracing how neuroscience entered and has impacted the law courts. Author Davis uses the case of a middle-aged Manhattan man who got in a tussle with his second wife, strangled her, and threw her out their twelfth-story window as a jumping-off point, so to speak. Was it your run-of-the-mill crime of passion, or did the cyst pressing on Mr. Weins ...more
Lindsay Nixon
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
RIVETING! Most gripping nonfiction book I've ever read. That perfect balance of science, application, memoir/historical account with a "what-happens-next" suspenseful pace.

Most interesting tidbit: Military veterans suffer brain damage much like NFL players or boxers because they are near explosions that make them fall and hit their heads. This has never occurred to me. (The Movie "Concussion" is the perfect pair to this book).

I was also surprised (even as a lawyer) to learn how rarely the "insa
Mike Bushman
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Author Kevin Davis' deeply researched story of how neuroscience is being erratically grafted with our legal system is compelling and thought-provoking. Even though the brain, the law and neuroscience are complex topics individually, Davis makes sense of their integration while engaging us emotionally in the stories of people he writes about.

Told through multiple cases and from multiple angles, The Brain Defense is a must read for anyone interested in the law, mental health, public policy or bra
Darcia Helle
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"My brain made me do it." Sounds like a ridiculous defense but, with this book, Kevin Davis shows us the science making that phrase a real possibility.

While I'm tempted to rehash some of the excellent material within, because it's a really fun topic to discuss, I'll instead stick to my thoughts on the book in general. First, the material is impeccably researched. The author builds from a solid base of one particular case, with a man who, after murdering his wife, was found to have an enormous c
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really interesting history of the ways in which neuroscience has been used in courtroom defenses. The book is straightforward, engaging, and Davis doesn't shy away from the controversy and complexity surrounding the ethical issues surrounding defenses that are based on emerging understanding of scientific findings. Definitely worth a read.
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2017-reads
Interesting overall but I was surprised that not a single woman's case was discussed. Isn't PMS still in the DSM?. The book might deserve 4 stars, but I just feel like it's a respectable 3 today. Wise to remember to be careful what you wish for in claiming an insanity defense: you may be stuck with a life sentence.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a book that explored the collaboration between neuroscience and law.

The ultimate questions that this book attempted to answer are, whether a person is responsible for his behaviour if he is not in his right mind? And are brain scans able to determine whether a person is sane?

The author presented us with a variety of court cases in which the defense attorney tried to mitigate the sentence received by the defendant through brain scan that showed a region of the brain which is diseased or
Diane Yannick
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Since I have a brain injury, this topic is of utmost interest to me. I seriously don’t think I’m going to murder anyone or need a lawyer to defend me using brain scans, but I did get kicked out of a department store once. This book is clearly well researched and reported. Repetitive sport assaults, as well as other brain abnormalities were investigated. Scientific data was often used in court to attempt to exonerate those who committed crimes. The author clearly examines the line between holding ...more
Sarah at Sarah's Bookshelves
The case studies were interesting, but I kept zoning out during the history sections.
Rachel Wall
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Audiobook during my commute this week. Extremely interesting look into mental health/brain function as explanations, not excuses, for crime. Some of the current studies are going on at Vanderbilt. If this subject interests you, I recommend. The cases are explained well for non legal or psychiatric expertise.
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, nonfiction
I very much enjoyed reading The Brain Defense, it's very well researched and written.

Can a tumor or a brain injury cause someone to commit a murder or to rape someone? Can they diminish culpability? When does someone plead for insanity and why it makes sense. I think doctors say that all tumors are individuals and that they have very different effects on people so I think Davis chose a very interesting topic to write a book about.

Davis also uses good examples, different bizarre and horrific sto
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
"Neuroscience could have an impact on the legal system that is as dramatic as DNA testing [...] Neuroscientists need to understand law, and lawyers need to understand neuroscience."

This book covered the intersection of neuroscience and law, tracing the history of its appearance within the courtroom and how that has influenced both judges and juries in terms of the verdict and sentencing for defendants. I thought that overall it was well researched and well written (there are a lot of notes a
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a science major who has always had an interest in law, this was a fascinating read. While there is no definitive brain injury that causes criminal behavior, there is a great deal of correlation between brain injuries, tumors and other brain abnormalities and people who demonstrate criminal behavior. The author deals with the difficult issue of using brain abnormalities as an excuse to absolve people from their own criminal behavior (as in not the not guilty by reason of insanity defense) and ...more
Amber Schroer
Well written science based, true crime, but mostly research novel into the history and present state of neuroscience in the courtroom through the telling of the case of New York vs Weinstein - a 1992(?) case that first introduced the "broken brain" as a defense for a crime - more specifically- murder. Different than the "insanity" plea, this case was the first to use PET scans of the criminal showing a dramatic image of a large cyst in his brain that may have explained why a 65 year old, well re ...more
Natalia Soler
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first came across this book during my cognitive psychology class. It interested me because of its cross of subjects between the legal system and neuroscience. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It was engaging and I was constantly learning something new the entire time (For example I never knew what a mitigation specialist was: someone whose job it is to dig into a person's past to explain why they are the way they are). I appreciated how it touched upon some bigger picture reflections about ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
In the last few decades, neuroscience has been uncovering phenomenal amounts of information about the brain. How may of our actions are due to choice? Is there such a thing as free will? The answer is that no one knows for sure - yet - but that does not stop gung-ho lawyers from bringing the latest research into the courtroom to excuse or mitigate their clients culpability.

Time and time again in The Brain Defense, Kevin Davis goes back to the case of Herbert Weinstein who killed his wife and th
Tracy St Claire
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was a well-written summary of brain imaging and criminal defense strategies in the United States for defendants with brain trauma or disease. It summarizes some case studies of those with trauma from football or war injuries, or tumors or other growths inside their brains and how the court system is and isn’t sympathetic to their defense.

The main case covered from start to finish was a man who strangled his wife and threw her from a twelfth-story window while she may or not been still
K. Lincoln
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a layman- not a scientist or medical professional of any kind.

Most of this book uses the framework of mild-mannered Herbert Weinstein who beat, strangled, and threw his wife out of a high-rise window one day over an argument, and spent most of the rest of his life in prison.

It turned out that Herbert had a kind of benign cyst that his defense lawyers tried to use as a mitigation factor in his sentencing. This is presented in the book as one of the primary cases where neuroscience imaging abo
Sadie Klus
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
So I really liked this book. It was filled with really interesting case studies of the use of neuroscience. It addressed topics from veterans to CTE to attempts to use PET scans to prove insanity or mitigate sentences. It felt comprehensive and thorough.
That being said, this book was definitely more of an overview of the history and applications of neuroscience in law, than a coherent narrative about the Weinstein case. It aims to inform lawyers, so although there is an underlying discussion abo
Lisa (LiteraryLatinax)
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
A lot.....A LOT of information in this book but needless to say it was interesting to read about the many cases that involved how different circumstances where the brain affected an individual made them become unknown to many including themselves.

This book is very detailed on brain fingerprinting, PTSD, cyst on the brain, murder, self harm, abuse, you name it. Many of the cases mentioned are those that we have read on TV or read online which really surprised me.

I think this can be overwhelming
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2017
Covers so many aspects of brain injury and the tests used to examine the extent of damage. I liked the way the various trials were spread throughout the chapters rather than revealing them all at once as I believe it kept me more engaged. In some ways I would have liked to have had cases where neurofeedback was used, but perhaps cases like that don't exist--and the book was revealing diagnostic and not therapeutic tools used in brain injury cases (so it is not an book flaw, just my wishful think ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting book covering an important topic, about how neuroscience is making it's way into legal proceedings, and how the use (and misuse) of neuroimaging techniques towards insanity defenses and other legal efforts needs to be reckoned with. As someone who is training to be a neuroscientist, and as someone who is passionate about criminal justice reform, I found this book lacking in depth in both ends. I felt the science was lacking at times, and that the discussion about the law and about ...more
Suzanne Petrella
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating topic

I had a brain tumor myself, the third ventricle with a craniotomy and subsequent shunt surgeries. I lost my breath at times to read how lives can change and psychologists and the criminal justice system have handled these facts. Sentencing, I didn't realize, would be such a controversial issue in the courtroom with neuropsychological evidence presented. Enjoyed discovering all this information.
Abby Boogie
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was very informative and thoroughly researched. I look at criminal behavior differently after reading about all this research, and I'm glad to know that the law and scientists are starting to work together to better interpret this relatively new trend of scientific criminal defense. I'd be really interested to read a follow up on this title ten years from now to see what has changed, too.
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