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

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  5,487 ratings  ·  392 reviews
With poignant insight and humor, Frank Vertosick, Jr., MD, describes some of the greatest challenges of his career, including a six-week-old infant with a tumor in her brain, a young man struck down in his prime by paraplegia, and a minister with a .22-caliber bullet lodged in his skull. Told through intimate portraits of Vertosick's patients and unsparing yet fascinatingl ...more
Audio CD, 9 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Tantor Audio (first published 1996)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

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

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about When the Air Hits Your Brain, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about When the Air Hits Your Brain

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,487 ratings  ·  392 reviews

Sort order
Petra Eggs
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Sarah Milne
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Ruthanne Davis
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
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'You don't have to be a brain surgeon', kaže anglo-saksonska poslovica, kad se govori o poslu koji ne zahtijeva značajne cerebralne sposobnosti. Ispostavlja se da je jedan od njih i posao neurokirurga. ne, ne traži se genijalnost, ali sigurna ruka, čelični živci i otporan želudac-definitivno. Autor nas u ovom djelu brutalno i bez imalo uljepšavanja provodi svojom specijalizacijom iz neurokirurgije, od samih početaka i gotovo slučajnog izbora sve do konačno teškos tečenog znanja neurokirurga. Kro ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Scot Parker
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 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!
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health, medicine
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
Rasha Al-shakarchy
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 😊😊
 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
"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
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.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Jim Goodrich
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Anthony Ferner
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 22, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In high school, I stumbled upon this on a clearance shelf and after reading it decided I should focus on medical school, not vet school, like I had planned. Many books written by doctors either dumb things down too much, assuming a reader is stupid, or are just plain dull, but this book was just right for me. I was (and still am) in love with medical topics, but this book turned me on the to crazy world of neuroscience.

Total disclosure: my stint as a neuroscience major lasted only about three m
susie k
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mostly memoirs drive me crazy as they tend to be all 'oh my life was so difficult and you should feel so sorry for me' pieces of crap. This one seems to serve a purpose in educating one on what a medical residency is truly like and what goes on from a doctor's point of view. I'm not sure how many surgeons are as cool as this one though. He doesn't exude a God complex any is really forthcoming in the limitations of doctors. No, they don't know everything and a lot of what they do is best guesses. ...more
May 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I spent my dark (or brilliant) training years in early 2000s. Although Dr Vertosick was trained many years ahead in other country, I could FULLY understand his mistakes, his agony, his complexes, and his triumph. Reading this book, I remembered the numerous days and nights in hospitals, confronted with helpless challenges, dying patients, and sleeplessness. Yes, it was great days of my life and it must be others' who wanna be a NEUROSURGEON.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love the brain, so this was a great read to me. I really enjoyed Vertosick's writing style... very insightful and he was funny too. This book took you through his evolution from young intern to world-class neurosurgeon, and included many different patient cases. A great read for just about anyone.
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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."
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating. If you are averse to blood and oozing brain tissue you might not want to tackle it, but it really is unlike any book I've ever read before, and worth the read. As the author states in his postscript, the book is less about the technology of brain surgery than it is about the human aspect of the disease, the people who suffer from it, and those who learn to treat it.
This is one of those books that take you back. I am by no means a neurosurgeon but I am a doctor. This book helped me relive my own training and residency. Every doctor has stories but Dr. Vertosick is a master story teller. This book is sad, funny, reverent, hopeful and full of wisdom for anyone interested in the pathways of human travel.
Juanita Baltz
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like a good, true medical story. Medicine is moving forward at a rapid pace. This story needs to be seen as a history. Just in my life nerosurgery went from 100% death to a more acceptable outcome.
« 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 »
  • Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives
  • Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years
  • Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
  • On Call: A Doctor's Days and Nights in Residency
  • The Intern Blues: The Timeless Classic About the Making of a Doctor
  • Something for the Pain: Compassion and Burnout in the ER
  • Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
  • Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives: Tales of Life and Death from the ER
  • Becoming a Doctor: A Journey of Initiation in Medical School
  • Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue
  • Intern: A Doctor's Initiation
  • White Coat: Becoming A Doctor At Harvard Medical School
  • Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis
  • What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student's Journey
  • The Deadly Dinner Party: and Other Medical Detective Stories
  • Emergency!: True Stories From The Nation's ERs
  • What I Learned in Medical School: Personal Stories of Young Doctors
  • The Medical Detectives
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.
“Failure instructs better than success. A single death shapes the surgeon’s psyche in a way that fifty “saves” cannot.” 6 likes
“just remember the rules of any surgical residency: Never stand when you can be sitting, never sit when you can be lying down, never use the stairs when there are elevators, never be awake if you can be asleep, and always eat and shit at the first available opportunity.” 4 likes
More quotes…