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The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True…
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The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and…

by Rob Dunn

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Fascinating topic. Since heart disease is one of the top causes of death in humans, it is a topic that garners interest from many people. Although I knew quite a bit already about how the heart functions and some of the things we have learned about heart disease in the last 20-30 years, this book was packed with a lot I did not know. In addition to good historical content, it covers some of the most recent findings in heart biology. The ony part I didn't like about the book is that sometimes the author took too long to get to the point, but overall a great read. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
“The Man Who Touched His Own Heart” is the kind of book so good you’ll be re-telling some of these stories to your friends and family the whole time you’re reading. It’s a good thing I’m not so squeamish anymore – and a wonder I was a biology major – but after a few chapters, I found myself adjusted and just absorbed in the fascinating complexity of the circulatory system, and the adventurous history of how we came to understand what we now know about it. Like the titular character (that was one story I had to share multiple times), these are people who went into new territory at times when doing so was unthinkable. Many of them used their own bodies when no other options were available, and all sought, with a vision, a solution to a known problem. The progress of medical knowledge had slow beginnings, with frustratingly long gaps and setbacks, even the delayed inclusion of women and people of color to contribute. Now this pace seems accelerated, where many of the discoveries described in this book are commonplace, made into standard practice – where available, as the author takes care to point out: the world is still not equitable.

The first chapter tells of Daniel Hale Williams, an African-American man who in Chicago was first to successfully attempt heart surgery on a living human. In the second chapter, Rob Dunn rewinds all the way back to Galen, a doctor to gladiators, and the first to really explore the human heart and anatomy in general. Following Galen is Leonardo da Vinci, seeing rivers and blood flowing the same way, and the beautiful matching of art and science. Vesalius and William Harvey picked up this work, and then we jump to Werner Forssmann, the man who touched his own heart. We learn about the development of heart-lung machines, which allow for lengthier surgery; heart transplants; and how Glenn Seaborg and others tried to use nuclear energy to power an artificial heart. How far back does heart disease and atherosclerosis go in humans? Dunn writes about ancient Egypt, and looks at other surrogate examples.

Once the structure and function of the heart were figured out, at least in the big if not complete picture, the author tells the stories of how treatments originated, from stents and bypass surgery, through diet, as studied by Ancel Keys and his wife. Dunn makes clear how cholesterol is actually harmful, and other substances the body sees as foreign. Knowing that, we can see more reasons why trees are good for us, and how we might be able to learn from groundhogs (yes, groundhogs), or any other organism in nature.

I really enjoyed how so many of these ideas came from thinking like an evolutionary biologist. Might there be a naturally occurring compound in fungi, a search trailblazed by Akira Endo, that could lower cholesterol? Maude Abbott and then Helen Taussig extensively poured over heart defects, especially in children. Wondering how, when, and where such defects arise, Taussig looked to birds, which also have four-chambered hearts. Did heart defects originate in humans, or did they evolve earlier? Looking at other systems, organismal or manufactured, can life expectancy be predicted from heart rates?

Like David Quammen or Jared Diamond, this is a far-reaching collection of history and natural history, explaining the present and offering suggestions of what the future might bring. If you want to be picky, you could say that some of the sentences are long and repetitive; others are short and could be combined. However, the only effect is that it might take longer to read, as it did for me – but the stories held my attention, and I wanted to savor this interesting-ness. This book is organized and edited so that each chapter leads well to the next, connecting everything full circle. While this might not have been something I’d pick up, due to the squeamishness mentioned above, I am really glad I read this excellent book. I learned a lot, and it gave me even more to think about.

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for generously providing a review copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. For more reviews, follow my blog at http://matt-stats.blogspot.com/ ( )
  MattCembrola | Aug 24, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316225797, Hardcover)

The secret history of our most vital organ--the human heart

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first "explorers" who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts' chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart transplants and the latest medical efforts to prolong our hearts' lives, almost defying nature in the process.

Thought of as the seat of our soul, then as a mysteriously animated object, the heart is still more a mystery than it is understood. Why do most animals only get one billion beats? (And how did modern humans get to over two billion-effectively letting us live out two lives?) Why are sufferers of gingivitis more likely to have heart attacks? Why do we often undergo expensive procedures when cheaper ones are just as effective? What do Da Vinci, Mary Shelley, and contemporary Egyptian archaeologists have in common? And what does it really feel like to touch your own heart, or to have someone else's beating inside your chest?

Rob Dunn's fascinating history of our hearts brings us deep inside the science, history, and stories of the four chambers we depend on most.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:42 -0400)

"The Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first "explorers" who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts' chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart transplants and the latest medical efforts to prolong our hearts' lives, almost defying nature in the process. Thought of as the seat of our soul, then as a mysteriously animated object, the heart is still more a mystery than it is understood. Why do most animals only get one billion beats? (And how did modern humans get to over two billion-effectively letting us live out two lives?) Why are sufferers of gingivitis more likely to have heart attacks? Why do we often undergo expensive procedures when cheaper ones are just as effective? What do Da Vinci, Mary Shelley, and contemporary Egyptian archaeologists have in common? And what does it really feel like to touch your own heart, or to have someone else's beating inside your chest? Rob Dunn's fascinating history of our hearts brings us deep inside the science, history, and stories of the four chambers we depend on most"--… (more)

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