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About the book
  • Published: 25 August 2016
  • ISBN: 9781473511552
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 256

A Smell of Burning

The Story of Epilepsy

Part memoir of Grant's late brother, part history of epilepsy: ‘An extraordinary work of love and art, which left me choked with tears' Observer

One day Colin Grant’s teenage brother Christopher failed to emerge from the bathroom. His family broke down the door to find him unconscious on the floor. None of their lives were ever the same again. Christopher was diagnosed with epilepsy. In A Smell of Burning Colin Grant tells the remarkable story of this strange and misunderstood disorder. He shows us the famous people with epilepsy like Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc and Vincent van Gogh, the pioneering doctors whose extraordinary breakthroughs finally helped gain an understanding of how the brain works, and, through the tragic tale of his brother, he considers the effect of epilepsy on his own life.

  • Pub date: 25 August 2016
  • ISBN: 9781473511552
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 256

About the Author

Colin Grant

Colin Grant is a historian and author of four highly praised books: Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey (2008), I and I: The Natural Mystics Marley, Tosh and Wailer (2011), Bageye at the Wheel (2012), and A Smell of Burning (2016). He is an Associate Fellow in the Centre for Caribbean Studies, and teaches creative non-fiction writing, most recently for Arvon and Sierra Nevada College.

Also by Colin Grant

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Praise for A Smell of Burning

“[A] brilliant, tender book… An extraordinary work of love and art, which left me choked with tears.”

Maggie Gee, Observer

“A moving memoir as well as a historical study of epilepsy… With verve and sensitivity, Grant tells the stories of individual sufferers.”

James McConnachie, Sunday Times, Book of the Year

“Grant’s exploration of the literary, political, medical and scientific history of epilepsy is hugely compelling; his telling of the story of two brothers transcends the book’s twin genres and leaves us with a wry, gentle masterpiece.”

Seamus Sweeney, Times Literary Supplement

“A fascinating personal and historical account. *****”

Helen Brown, Sunday Telegraph

“A flawless amalgam of personal memoir, mind science and medical history.”

Ian Thomson, Spectator

“In writing A Smell of Burning… Grant may yet save more lives as a writer than he did as a doctor.”

Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph

“As a memoir of Christopher’s trajectory of illness it is tenderly expressed, and the book is a poignant evocation of grief and regret.”

Gavin Francis, Guardian

“He brings a core of expert knowledge and skill as a communicator to the story… [An] absorbing and sometimes horrifying tale.”

John Gribbon, Literary Review

“At its best is like the works of other medics-turned-authors Atul Gawande and Henry Marsh.”

Tom Whipple, The Times

“[Grant] helps us gain an eminently accessible insight into a world that…is still shrouded in mystery. It is a touching tale of brotherly love.”

Helen Davies, Sunday Times

“[A] moving memoir.”

Sarah Stacey, Daily Mail

“An enthralling and eclectic account.”

Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller

“A readable and informative book that should help to lay to rest some of the many misconceptions about the condition.”

Kate Whiting, Scotsman

“A brilliant evocation of a young man’s difficult relationship with a stigmatized disease.”

Suzanne O'Sullivan, Lancet

“A scholarly yet highly readable account of the history of – as well as current thinking on – epilepsy.”

Tony Gould, Oldie

“Thanks to A Smell of Burning we are encouraged to put into question our own perceptions of what constitutes balance and harmony, in our brains, our minds, and the world around us.”

Dr Maria Vaccarella, British Medical Journal

“An informative book that will hopefully encourage readers to show more empathy.”

Natalie Bowen, Northern Echo

“Fascinating, moving and deeply personal.”


“Written by a former medic whose younger brother was an epileptic, this is a superb personal and historical account of the effect the condition has on the lives of sufferers and those around them”

Daily Telegraph

“This is a sharply poignant and sad memoir. It’s also a brilliant historical and medical analysis.”

William Leith, Evening Standard

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