The Beautiful Brain

An Audible Original
Narrated by: Hana Walker-Brown
Length: 3 hrs and 42 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (6,483 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

This is a story about —football, or soccer as it’s known in the US. The highs, the lows, historic match days, and foul play. It’s a celebration of a beloved player, a history maker, and his tragic ending at the final whistle. It’s a story about science and discovery, about the people on the frontline of life-changing research. But above all, it’s a story about family, and about consequence.

All of this is wrapped up in three little letters: C.T.E. A four-part investigative documentary from multi award-winning producer Hana Walker-Brown, The Beautiful Brain looks at the devastating effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a degenerative brain disease found in people who’ve suffered severe or repeated blows to the head.

Beginning with the story of FA Cup winner Jeff Astle, the podcast expands outwards looking at the widows, daughters and families who are left fighting for answers following the death of their loved ones. As the series progresses Hana’s investigation leads her from Britain’s football pitches to support groups for victims of domestic violence and beyond, sparking a vital discussion about accountability and the urgent need for further scientific studies into CTE. 

©2019 Audible, Ltd (P)2019 Audible, Ltd

Our favorite moments from The Beautiful Brain

Jeff Astle was a life force...
What happened next would mark the Astle family forever…
It didn’t come gradually...it came like a juggernaut.
Why haven’t they done the research?

  • The Beautiful Brain
  • Jeff Astle was a life force...
  • The Beautiful Brain
  • What happened next would mark the Astle family forever…
  • The Beautiful Brain
  • It didn’t come gradually...it came like a juggernaut.
  • The Beautiful Brain
  • Why haven’t they done the research?
Episode 1: A Glass Half Full

Jeff Astle was a player that made history. But aside from the glorious chapters of his life on the pitch, away from the floodlights, Jeff’s story is a tragic testament to the effects of CTE. How it was discovered and the events that followed make a remarkable story that sent tremors throughout the Football Association, tremors that erupted across the globe and continue to rock both the world and the Astle Family.

Episode 2: An Inconvenient Truth

Host Hana Walker-Brown meets Dr. Bennett Omalu. A man so integral to the story of CTE, that they made a movie about him with Will Smith in the starring role. Doctor Omalu was the driving force behind the discovery of CTE amongst American NFL players including Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Webster. Doctor Omalu believed this discovery would change everything; a truth that could save thousands of lives the world over and change sport forever, but one that wouldn’t be well received by the sporting bodies he was up against. Something the Astle family would also soon find out.

Episode 3: The Punch-Drunk Wife

In comparison to men, the research on female brain injury is alarmingly low. The common term associated with women and concussion is TBI—Traumatic Brain Injury—and is defined as “an alteration in brain function or other evidence of brain pathology caused by an external force.” An external force like a football, or a boxing glove, or a fist. In this episode Hana explores the story of one of the first cases of CTE ever reported in a woman. Through her investigation, Hana meets the doctors and scientists dedicating their lives to researching female traumatic brain injury, and hears devastating personal testimony from survivors of intimate partner violence.

Episode 4: Long Live the King

In this last episode, Hana returns to the Midlands for one final meeting with the Astle family on the opening night of For The Love Of The Game, a play written by Mike Howl about Jeff’s life and death. She visits the Hawthorns—West Bromwich Albion’s football grounds—to meet the Albion Memories Dementia Group, an organization which provides space for partners and caregivers to chat with players of the past, share old photographs and trophies, and discuss their shared loved of the game to evoke memories that have been lost.

About the Creator

Hana Walker-Brown is an international award-winning documentary maker, composer, radio producer, and journalist based in London. Her work displays an exceptional range, enormous creativity and sensitivity, and beautiful storytelling. Her content makes for uncomfortable, moving, thought-provoking listening: everything audio should be. A gifted story teller and sound-smith, her productions use a range of subtle techniques, approaches, and textures that always honor the subject matter. Her work is rooted in the best tradition of radio feature-making but effortlessly incorporates the dynamism and new aesthetics of podcasting. Through her work, she is a fearless and passionate advocate of audio as a powerful medium for any story in this visual age. Hana is in the “2018 ReelWorld Radio Academy 30 Under 30” list of people who have shown exceptional tenacity, talent, and a proven trajectory to be the industry’s next generation of talent. An exceptional talent at the cutting edge of creative audio and storytelling, Hana is also a mentor for the Sound Women network, offering support and coaching to women who are starting out in radio and music industries.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

CTE and Sports - not just for soccer fans

CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is much talked about with American Football, Grid Iron, because of the hard hitting tackles, heavy helmets and the regularity of concussions. But it is not something as regularly associated with soccer (at least in my mind), as sport that is generally considered 'softer' and less 'violent'. The Beautiful Brain is an audio documentary that looks into CTE and the history and links it has with 'the beautiful game', Soccer, futbol, football.

While this is focused on soccer, impacts to the head through heading the ball, and particularly West Brom player, Jeff Astle, this is an audio production not just for soccer fans. It is something that all sports fans should be interested in, especially those who are playing sports where head injuries are a risk. It explains the science of CTE as we currently understand it (it is still early days).

CTE is a disease caused through head trauma (including things such as head butting a football). The more head trauma, the more likely you are to develop CTE. It is associated with dementia, problems with thinking and memory, personality changes, and behavioral changes including aggression and depression.

In the audio we hear interviews with people who know Astle (family and friends), scientists, doctors, and CTE experts. They talk about how knowledge of CTE has come about and grown, how the research and how the research is being reacted to. it talks about the symptoms and how they start to show over time and how they can be tested. They talk to doctors and scientist doing research with amateur players - not professionals - and showing the impact is not just for the elite players. It presents what the risks are - is a single headbutt enough, or is it repeated and regular that is required? Is there a genetic component?

It also talks about how the Football Association, NFL and other sports have reacted to the research – generally not doing much and trying to ignore the problem. It talks about how the FA failed to go the promised investigation into Astle’s death and it’s links to CTE. FA eventually changed their approach, but it took a long time and a lot of pressure.

There is a tangent in the middle – where it goes and talks about CTE and females. It moves away from sports – possibly because the sports that cause CTE are less often played by females – and discussed other causes. Primarily domestic violence, although there are other causes discussed. It discusses here how the study of CTE and women is even further behind the male research, due to the lower levels of occurrence. It’s an interesting discussion, and it does further the discussion around CTE, what it is and what we do about it, but it is definitely a tangent away from the sports conversation that the rest of the documentary focuses on. Although it does eventually circled back to women in sports and CTE.

This is an audio-documentary - filled with interviews, excerpts, and so forth guided by Hana Walker-Brown. Walker-Brown has put together the interviews and produced the audio. It is well put together, considering the mix of audio. It ranges from new interviews (some which have picked up background noise) to sound excerpts from football matches going back to the 1960's. But none of it is mixed poorly or at wrong levels.

There is also atmospheric music added behind the recording, and between 'scene' changes in places. While it is there to set the mood it is subtle and never feels overwhelming.

161 people found this helpful

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Vitally important

Listening to the personal stories of people affected by this terrible condition brought me to a whole new level of understanding about CTE. I was surprised to learn about the physical and social CTE variances experienced by women. I was also inspired by all the front-line researchers, clinicians, reporters, and grass-roots capaigners working on this issue.

47 people found this helpful

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Don’t expect any facts or sciene

Narration is all about the human aspect and personal stories related to cte. If you are looking for information about the science behind cte you should look elsewhere.

24 people found this helpful

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Varied Dialects Difficult to Understand

I normally enjoy the journalism selections on Audible. I was interested in the subject matter. The Beautiful Brain turned out to be the most difficult Original I’ve ever listened to. I listen to a great deal of British drama and am used to a variety of accents including Scotch and Irish as well as the Queen’s English and other regional dialects. I had difficulty comprehending what the family and the doctor were saying due to their strong accents. Actors should’ve been used to relate the experiences so listeners could better understand. Repeat listening didn’t help much. The narrator was fine and I’m certain she felt that the individuals themselves should be heard. That would’ve worked much better for a filmed segment not an audio only and particularly for American listeners.
More time should’ve been spent on the journalists uncovering the survey coverup of the football and soccer agencies as well. Very disappointing.

17 people found this helpful

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Doesn't translate well to an audio book.

I am sure this was made for TV originally because it just doesn't work as an audiobook. I found myself tuning out in some spots, in others just listening to the sniffling and crying and gross snot sounds was making my eyes water at work (like when you see someone yawn and you have to yawn.)

I got almost to the end before I gave up, and this is a lot longer than I expected it to be. I feel like it could be summed up with a couple of sentences. "Being struck on the head by any means, whether once or repeatedly, can cause dementia to form later in life. Sports players and victims of domestic violence suffer from this the most."

There. That's the entire audiobook in a nutshell. I actually couldn't remember if I paid for this as I was going to get a refund if I did, but turns out it was a monthly freebie. At least there's that.

17 people found this helpful

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Documentary about injured brains

If you are interested in damaged brains from sports injuries, this book may interest you. The documentary was filled with actual taped interviews. The quality of the interviews was fair to poor. it was difficult to listen to in a car. Parts seemed to be repetitious which made the book drag. I forced myself to listen to the whole thing during some long drives.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent journalism and storytelling

This is by far my favorite of the audible originals so far. I’ve been following this topic in sports for years. The author does a tremendous job of balancing the science and the personal and the cultural. Jeff Astle’s story is compelling and heart-rending. I also very much appreciate the pivot the author took into women’s issues around this topic, and I was immediately able to share the pink concussion site with a close friend who is currently – very very slowly – recovering from a concussion, wondering why it’s taking her so long. I’ve seen criticisms about the accents in other reviews… If you have had a lot of UK accents in your life in whatever way, there is zero issue. If you haven’t, sure, you might struggle. But anyone who has a lot of UK friends or listens to a ton of BBC will be fine. I absolutely cannot imagine this work without the voices and stories and first-person point of view of Jeff’s family.

2 people found this helpful

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FINALLY: let's talk about women and brain injuries

As a TBI patient, and a woman, the lack of information on how brain trauma affects women in different ways is very apparent. Both my neurologists have lamented this on my behalf, and even encouraged me to start a blog...but, you know, brain injury 🤷. the concept of a project like a blog freezes me up. so, thank you, thank you, thank you for this book!!!!

4 people found this helpful

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  • DB
  • 04-05-19

Thank God these things are free

You may think you're getting content about CTE, but by about 10 minutes in, after having spent the last 5 hearing about how many points some soccer player scored when he was younger and how he was so poor he stuffed newspapers into his shoes, you'll realize that this may not be what you're looking for. At least there's plenty of mood-setting audio of car doors opening and closing.

39 people found this helpful

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Informative and well done

very informative and well done. Totally held my interest. Parents of young children should listen.