... passionate and meticulous ... After a decade’s dedication to this man, Ehrlich has profound sympathy and great insight into the workings of his mind. This comes across clearly in The Brain in Search of Itself,” a deeply researched, well-written and lovingly crafted biography. But the strength of the book lies less in the writing than in the life of its protagonist, filled with picaresque adventures ... Every time that Cajal’s voice takes the foreground, the book comes alive and reads much like a novel ... But it suffers from the constraints of genre: It is, like so many biographies, crammed with information that not many casual or literary readers will appreciate. It gets bogged down in overly detailed political anecdotes, descriptions of everyday life in 19th-century Spain, and burdensome exposition of histological techniques. Ehrlich goes to great lengths to give a full and exacting portrait of a fascinating scientist, and while he delivers thought-provoking metaphors, unforgettable scenes and many beautifully worded phrases, to find these pearls one must also endure the rigors of academia and of strict biography, which seemingly dictate that we must follow a person from birth all the way to death...But a full life is filled with tedium, ordinary occurrences and minutiae that fiction can expunge, to reach a deeper stratum of truth. Ehrlich is aware of this, and effectively applies 'literary and narrative treatments' to reveal the mysteries that facts can obscure. And yet one of the great strengths of his book may not resonate with a wide audience, though it will undoubtedly give pleasure to readers who relish this sort of writing, and who are drawn to devoted and punctilious works of history.
... in-depth ... In this deeply researched and intimate book, Ehrlich illuminates his subject’s life and work ... In vivid detail, he describes Cajal’s emergence from childhood rogue to internationally celebrated scientist and chronicles unrelenting pursuit of knowledge within a volatile and rapidly changing world. Through colorful anecdotes about Cajal’s upbringing, education, career, marriage, and fatherhood, the author reveals his character in more detail than ever before, bringing him to life in clear and elegant prose. Cajal believed that scientific pursuit was indistinguishable from human self-discovery. Writes Ehrlich, he 'provided a deeper account of our humanity, the story of how our brains became what they are.' The book includes photos and anatomical drawings ... A beautiful composition that shows Cajal’s indelible contribution to science and art.