By Brian B. Hoffman
Harvard University Press – £18.95

There is something about adrenaline per se, that enables even the most humdrum or painfully shy of personalities, to evolve unto an entirely different character. I say this, because by nature, I am abysmally shy. Yet give me a microphone and an audience, and I will instinctively morph into someone else. Someone who, while shopping in say Sainsbury’s, is about as close to my fundamental personality as is Harold Macmillan or Richard The Third.

Many might argue the case that either of the aforementioned characters are indeed the real me, even if it does take a certain amount of adrenaline to both induce and become/realise as much.

Over the years, such realisation has occasionally been substantiated via a number of arenas, the most recent of which was whilst reviewing Pete Townshend’s excellent biography Who I Am; wherein the songwriter and performer confessed: ‘’Onstage as a musician I was capable of doing something I couldn’t manage in any other part of my life – I could act a role. I could perform using an exaggerated aspect of my character that at other times was hidden […]. Offstage, truth be told, I am a mouse […].’’

Along with the many other aspects of adrenaline, author Brian B. Hoffman touches on this particular expression, mid-way through the simply entitled Adrenaline. A marvellous book – that can only be described as a complete, captivating and altogether convincing study on the subject.

For instance, he kicks off chapter ten (‘Adrenaline Junkies’), by quoting the American novelist, poet and short story writer, Richard Brautigan:

Adrenalin Mother,
with your dress of comets
and shoes of swift bird wings
and shadow of jumping fish,
thank you for touching,
understanding and loving my life.
Without you, I am dead.

Immediately after which, he himself writes: ‘’At just the right dose, adrenaline connotes excitement, vigour, and thrills. On the other hand, overflowing adrenaline heralds fear, anger, and even death. Similarly, many of the ways adrenaline has been portrayed over the years in popular media involve its capacity to increase strength and to boost the flavour and intensity of emotional responses; other allusions draw upon its ability to trigger heart attacks.’’

Unlike many other authors, who might write on what is clearly (capable of being considered) a rather complex subject, Hoffman writes with a pinpoint clarity, of which the above is a prime example. I particularly like the way the chapter is initially brought to bear by way of poetry (especially the introductory first line ‘’Adrenaline Mother’’), the subjective trajectory of which is then further analysed in a language and nuance that is altogether concise, as well as understanding.

The science of adrenaline, does after all, need to be deciphered, if not delivered, in such a way that is not predominantly scientific. It surely needs to be conveyed in such a way that the uninitiated can ultimately come to terms with.

And I believe Hoffman, who is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, fully realises this, as Alfred Gilman (Winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Psychology or Medicine) is quoted as saying: ‘’Adrenaline has long captured the attention of all flavours of physicians, biologists, and story tellers. Now, happily, Brian Hoffman has captured the complete ‘’biography of adrenaline’’ in substantial detail. The story and science are delivered with just enough (but not too much) technical detail. And numerous vignettes make it a very human read.’’

Indeed, Adrenaline is a very human read.

Apart from substantiating the scientific validity of the subject, these 204 pages also shed considerable light on adrenaline’s continuing popular appeal – thus making for a stimulating read.

David Marx


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