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Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness,…
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Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

by Luke Dittrich

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» See also 13 mentions

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The topic of this book thrilled me to no end; mental health practices, lobotomies, asylums, and what patients (specifically patient H.M.) went through.
The writing style, however, was severely lacking.
Do you have that one friend that manages to find an interesting topic, but then proceeds to mangle the delivery and talk about it to death? That friend could have wrote this.
There were asides to asides that didn't add anything to the narrative, repetitive information every new section, very little about Henry Molaison, which the book was titled after, and long, drawn out paragraphs about what Dittrich assumed what had happened.
It is a shame, since I really wanted to learn more about this fascinating topic. Unfortunately, I couldn't get into this book at all.

Thank you to Netgalley for a copy in exchange for an unbiased review. ( )
  JPetersonReads | Dec 23, 2018 |
This was my #nonfiction pick for September. I love a good medical drama and this one did not disappoint. H.M. got a lobotomy in an attempt to cure epilepsy, but ended up unable to make new memories. Researched for over 50 years. The story of H.M. is interesting enough by itself, but then you have the added twist of the author's connection to the story. Really fascinating. Crazy how the whole thing is still wrapped up in controversy. ( )
  Aseleener | Mar 24, 2018 |
At 40%, I'm throwing in the towel. Perhaps, this just isn't the time for me to be reading this, or I set my expectations too high, but I have lost interest in this book and the desire to finish reading it. More information as to why will follow.
------------------ Updated Review--------------------
I gave this one a good try, I did or at least feel like I did. At the 40% mark, I threw in the towel. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe, this isn't a good time for me to be reading this (sometimes it's about timing books right), but I reached a point where I was no longer enjoying reading this, so this one is a DNF for me.

There was a lot of good writing in here, but I think what failed me is that at almost the halfway point, I knew zip about Henry Molaison. The little bit I knew could have been gathered from the synopsis.

What I did know was the author's grandmother had a history of mental illness and was institutionalized. I learned about mental asylums and the "therapies" they employed in an attempt to cure people. The history of neuropsychology was fascinating, but it isn't why I picked up the book.

I felt the same with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. There was a lot of interesting information and well-written to not come across as a medical textbook. Everything was explained clearly and understandable to the average reader with little to no medical knowledge, but who was Henry Molaison?

I kept reading hoping the next chapter would have more about him, but would only find more information about the lobotomy's crude beginnings and the advances made over time. When I did finally get another glimpse at H.M., it was brief. Then back to more history lessons on mental asylums.

At almost the halfway point, I have learned little to nothing about the man who was the reason I picked up the book. I expected to have some history lessons thrown in there, especially because the lobotomy that caused H.M.'s amnesia was not a rarity. I knew that a lot of the therapies experienced by patients during H.M.'s time were commonplace, but we now know did more harm than good. I was really interested in the fact that the author, Dittrich, was the grandson of the man who performed the lobotomy that changed H.M.'s life.

The writing is not poor, in fact, it is interesting. I struggled with whether or not to give this book 1 star or 2 because I didn't absolutely hate it. I just didn't finish it. With all of the other books I'm currently reading and want/need to read, this fell to the back-burner and I started to lack the desire to pick it back up.

Ultimately, I changed my rating to 2 stars because it is interesting, has finess to it that many medical-related books lack, and has a very interesting premise. It was just not the book for me. I think if I gave it another try in the future, I might be able to finish it without effort. Maybe not, but it was not constructed poorly and I didn't hate it. I just wanted more about Henry Molaison and less on the history of Dittrich's grandfather's rise to fame and neuropsychology/psychosurgeons. ( )
  CJ82487 | Mar 20, 2018 |
I can't put my figure on why I disliked this book. I will have to revisit it and see if I feel the same way. I believe it is the topic -- the section about the nazis... awful. I knew most of this material but it seemed much more graphic.

I am sorry the author had to write a book on such a grim topic. I hope he continues to write.

I should add I thank the author for writing this story.
I also recently read a book that horrified me... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Grandfather_Would_Have_Shot_Me.

It strikes home when family members are involved, but at least some doctors working with mentally ill were trying to help patients. ( )
  honkcronk | Aug 19, 2017 |
This is the second or third book I've read because of the topic being mentioned in The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons. I think I would have liked this more if I hadn't had previously read books similar to it. This non-fiction narrative intertwines the history of lobotomies with Dittrich's own neurosurgeon grandpa, his schizophrenic grandmother, and the post-lobotomized life of patient H.M

Every time I read one of these stories about how the medical field operated in the past (and probably in some ways still today) it shocks me. You'd think I'd be use to it by now, but hearing about how they used humans with mental illnesses and epilepsy and those who identified as homosexuals as guinea pigs appalled me. I know we learned a lot from it and we have to weigh the cost against the reward. (I will leave that up to the experts to decide if it was worth it.)

I do applaud Dittrich for seamlessly switching between each story line and bringing them all together to create an in depth look at neurosurgery. ( )
  Kristymk18 | Jul 3, 2017 |
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Epigraph
Man is certainly no poorer as a experimental animal merely because he can talk.

Paul Bucy
Every day is alone in itself. Whatever enjoyment I've had, and whatever sorrow I've had.

Henry Molaison
Dedication
For Bambam, Lola, Laska, and Anwyn
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The laboratory at night, the lights down low.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812992733, Hardcover)

For readers of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Hare with Amber Eyes comes a propulsive, haunting journey into the secret history of brain science by Luke Dittrich, whose grandfather performed the surgery that created the most studied human research subject of all time: the amnesic known as Patient H.M.
 
In the late 1930s, in asylums and hospitals across America, a group of renowned neurosurgeons embarked on a campaign to develop and refine a new class of brain operation—the lobotomy—that they hoped would eradicate everything from schizophrenia to homosexuality. These “psychosurgeons,” as they called themselves, occupied a gray zone between medical research and medical practice, and ended up subjecting untold numbers of people to the types of surgical experiments once limited to chimpanzees.
 
The most important test subject to emerge from this largely untold chapter in American history was a twenty-seven-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison. In 1953, Henry—who suffered from severe epilepsy—received a radical new version of the lobotomy, one that targeted the most mysterious structures in the brain. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have another, unintended effect: Henry left the operating room profoundly amnesic, unable to create new long-term memories. Over the following 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.
 
Journalist Luke 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 the psychosurgeons conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a bitter custody battle over the ownership of the most important brain in the world. Throughout, Dittrich delves into the enduring mysteries of the mind, while exposing troubling stories of just how far we’ve gone in our pursuit of knowledge.
 
It is also, 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.
 
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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Apr 2016 08:24:05 -0400)

"In the late 1930s, in asylums and hospitals across America, a group of renowned neurosurgeons worked to develop and refine a new class of brain operation--the lobotomy--that they hoped would eradicate everything from schizophrenia to homosexuality...The most important test subject to emerge from this largely untold chapter was a 27-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison...Journalist Luke Dittrich uses his case as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, from the first recorded brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the cutting-edge laboratories of MIT...It is also, at times, a deeply personal journey: Dittrich's grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison--and thousands of other patients..."--From dust jacket.… (more)

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