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Book Review of "You Have A Brain" by Dr. Ben Carson

Wednesday, March 2, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Reviewed by Josh Lutkus, Dean of Students, Gaston Day School, Gastonia, NC

I am not a big follower of politics, but I would have had to be living under a rock to have not heard of Ben Carson. This instantly became a case of judging a book by its cover or better yet, judging a book by its author. It reminded me of all the times my upper school students relayed their disdain for reading Shakespeare or Hemingway, again. I, like they, and probably all of us at some point, was making a judgment without even opening the cover of You Have A Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.

Reading the inside flap, you are able to get a very quick summary of what this book is about: “Through gripping and inspiring stories, Ben illustrates how to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.  how to harness the power of Talent, Honesty, Insight, Niceness, Knowledge, Books, In-Depth learning, and God and find the inner strength you never knew you had.” I’m a sucker for a good mnemonic device, so my interest was piqued and I jumped right in.

Within the first three sentences of the book, Dr. Carson is quick to let us know that he has given the brain much thought through the more than 15,000 surgical operations he has performed. Did you know?

  • Inside each human brain are approximately 86 billion neurons interconnected by more than 100 trillion synapses (estimated since no one has counted them all yet), which science has only begun to understand.
  • Your brain generates electricity constantly, enough every waking minute to keep a low-wattage light bulb fully lit. So when you say, “That’s a bright idea,” your statement could be literally as well as figuratively true.

Dr. Carson uses these (and more) facts to illustrate how powerful and wonderful the brain is. When younger, he was considered by his classmates to be the “class dummy,” and he saw no reason to debate this. He had a lack of belief in himself and needed someone to bring out the best in him. That person was his mother. Throughout the book, Carson shares a few stories about the belief and love his mother had for him and to be honest, it is heartwarming. It made me reflect on what I do as dean of students, and hopefully I, along with my colleagues, are able to show this belief and love to our students as it can be the deciding factor in a student succeeding.

Another interesting story is from his time in medical school. Ben followed the rules, went to class, studied, completed assignments, and thought he was doing well. However, it wasn’t long before he had doubts. He did poorly on his first set of comprehensive exams, which led to a conversation with his faculty advisor. His advisor questioned if he was really cut out for medical school and even hinted at him doing something else. He goes on to talk about how this caused him to reassess how he studied and prepared for class. He came to the conclusion that he learned best by reading. He then decided to skip most of his class lectures and while other students were in class, he was reading and rereading the textbook for each of his courses. He also purchased detailed notes from class “scribes” to fill in any missing details.

Apparently this was common practice in med school. Could you imagine this happening now? I don’t know how I would react if a student approached me about doing this. However, it did give me pause to think about our current traditional system  one in which students attend a set amount of classes for a set amount of time and often sit in rows being talked at. It is becoming more commonplace for schools to do things differently to suit the needs of different learning styles. This is a good thing and this story helped remind me to continue to think outside the box.

Should YOU read this? Yes! It was an easy and light read but filled with some good tidbits and inspirational stories. At times I was a little put off by some bragging that Carson did, but it is also possible that at times I approached the reading with some preconceived notions. I was glad I read this and pushed through some of those notions as I believe it is a nice companion piece to an advisory program. There are some discussion questions at the end that are also helpful and could be used as a starting off point. I am a big fan of Dunkin’ Donuts and would give this book three out of four cups of coffee or better yet, three out of four glazed donut holes!   





Josh Lutkus is Dean of Students for grades 5-12 at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, NC. He can be followed on Twitter @SpartyGastonDay or reach him by email at       



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