|BROADSTONE BOOKS presents
Nancy Stearns Bercaw
BRAIN IN A JAR:
A Daughter's Journey through
Her Father's Memory
With an Introduction by Former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey
& Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
“Promise me something, Gal,” he said.
“Anything,” I answered.
“Swear that you will put a gun to my head
if I wind up like my father.”
Nancy Stearns Bercaw crossed her
fingers the day she promised to kill her
father. Instead she promised herself to one
day tell his story, and in this unflinchingly
honest memoir she recounts her life with
Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw, or “Beau,”
who became a neurologist in response to
watching his own father deteriorate and die
with Alzheimer’s. For many years Beau
kept an autopsied brain in a jar on the desk
in his office as a constant reminder of the
struggle that he waged against the disease
first with his patients, and ultimately for
himself as he succumbed to its effects.
This is also the story of the author’s own
struggle to establish her identity and to
navigate the treacherous and ever-changing
emotional terrain of her relationship with
her father, as she literally traveled the
world in her quest to make sense of both of
It would be reason enough to read this book as a gripping account of a family dealing with
a tragic disease that continues to ravage the lives of countless victims and their survivors
alike. But to say that this is an important book on a crucial subject is to understate its
merits. For in a larger sense, this book is not about Alzheimer’s, but rather the more
universal subject of family, and how this one family and this one daughter in particular
managed to live in the deep shadow of Beau’s obsession.
Surprisingly, given these dark themes, this is often a very funny book, tragicomic in the
manner of real life that fiction can never equal. Beau is such a vivid, complex and often
infuriating character that if you were to encounter him in a novel you might dismiss him as
too unlikely to be real; while the author’s own travels and adventures can seem almost too
much to have been crammed into a single, still very much ongoing life.
It is a gift that such a talented and engaging writer should have lived – or perhaps better,
survived – such an incredible life, and that she has chosen to make her memoir her mission
and to share it with us. This is a rollicking roller-coaster of a read, and it ends in the best
possible way, filled with life and hope.
“Brain in a Jar is an American Gothic tale of love, grief, genetics, obsession, adventure,
fear and courage. The Bercaws might break your heart, but they’ll also remind you
why Alzheimer’s disease must take center stage in politics, medicine, and art.”
Bob Kerrey and Newt Gingrich,
from the Introduction
"This is a wonderful, powerful memoir of a father by his daughter, at once heartfelt
and artful, very moving and very honest, very well written and beautifully constructed. A
classic of its kind."
William Boyd, author eleven novels including
A Good Man in Africa, Brazzaville Beach, Any
Human Heart and Waiting for Sunrise.
“My friend, classmate and colleague, neurologist Beauregard Bercaw MD, watched
his father deteriorate with Alzheimer’s disease and thus knew what might be in store for
him. Whereas the stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, ‘Fore-knowledge is fore-sorrow,’ this
knowledge about his father’s demise helped motivate Beau to spend his life helping other
people with neurological diseases, and when he developed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s
himself he did not succumb without a valiant battle. This wonderful book written by his
daughter describes her relationship with her adoring father, his work as a neurologist, and
his fight with this terrible disease.
“When we reach our eighties, fifty percent of us will have this or another dementing disease,
and this book will help open peoples’ eyes so that we can prepare and find a
means of ending this terrible plague.”
Kenneth M. Heilman MD, FAAN
The James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor
Department of Neurology,
University of Florida College of Medicine
|Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Clothbound, 208 pages
Born in the Philippines, Nancy Stearns Bercaw has since lived in
Kenya, Korea, Singapore, London, Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, Virginia,
New York, Quebec and Abu Dhabi, and today makes her home with her
son David and husband Allan Nicholls in Burlington, Vermont. She has
written extensively on Alzheimer’s disease for a wide variety of
publications, and speaks frequently on issues of Alzheimer’s and identity.
Her work as a journalist has appeared around the world from the Korea
Herald to the New York Times, and as a contributor to Seven Days,
Vermont’s alternative news weekly. She was also a contributor to Cradle
Will Rock: The Movie and the Moment (HarperCollins, 1999). A national
championship swimmer, she was inducted into the University of South
Florida’s inaugural athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. Brain in a Jar was her
first book, and more recently she is also the author of Dryland: One
Woman's Swim to Sobriety.
Click on the photo to
visit Nancy's website.