Patient H.M.

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Patient H.M.

A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

What if you found out that a family member was a medical leader in lobotomy surgeries? And even worse, possibly did the operation on a beloved family member? The author, Luke Dittrich, made that discovery, which led him to write Patient H.M: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets.

There is information about Patient H.M., a long-term patient who couldn’t create short-term memories, which led to decades of research, but he’s really used as a launching pad to open the discussion on medical discoveries and physician ethics. This book is an exploration on the history of treating mental illnesses and why they thought treatments that, in today’s view would be considered barbaric, might have been considered legitimate in the past. Let me be clear, this book is not a discussion on successful treatments for mental health issues or beliefs on what causes such illnesses. It’s strictly an examination on what has been done to people suffering from mental health disorders.

The history of how our society handled people with mental health issues, and even worse, what they deemed to be mental health issues (but were not) was heard to read. It was extremely difficult to read about the Nazi experiments. But I’m glad I know this knowledge because I never want history to repeat itself.

Overall, I found the concept of this book to be fascinating and the reality to be disturbing.

Book Blurb for Patient H.M.

“Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King”* in this propulsive, haunting journey into the life of the most studied human research subject of all time, the amnesic known as Patient H.M. For readers of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks comes a story that has much to teach us about our relentless pursuit of knowledge.

Winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award


The Washington Post • New York Post • NPR • The Economist • New York • Wired • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage

In 1953, a twenty-seven-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison—who suffered from severe epilepsy—received a radical new version of the then-common lobotomy, targeting the most mysterious structures in the brain. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. Over the next sixty years, Patient H.M., as Henry was known, became the most studied individual in the history of neuroscience, a human guinea pig who would teach us much of what we know about memory today.

Patient H.M. is, at times, a deeply personal journey. Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison—and thousands of other patients. The author’s investigation into the dark roots of modern memory science ultimately forces him to confront unsettling secrets in his own family history, and to reveal the tragedy that fueled his grandfather’s relentless experimentation—experimentation that would revolutionize our understanding of ourselves.

Dittrich uses the case of Patient H.M. as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, one that moves from the first recorded brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the cutting-edge laboratories of MIT. He takes readers inside the old asylums and operating theaters where psychosurgeons, as they called themselves, conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a bitter custody battle over the ownership of the most important brain in the world.

Patient H.M. combines the best of biography, memoir, and science journalism to create a haunting, endlessly fascinating story, one that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide.

Night Owl Reviews Apr, 2017 4.00