Patient H.M.

  • by Luke Dittrich
  • Narrated by George Newbern
  • 14 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

For listeners of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 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 1953, a 27-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 60 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 listeners 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.

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What the Critics Say

"Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King in a piercing study of one of psychiatric medicine's darker hours.... A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Patient H.M. tells one of the most fascinating and disturbing stories in the annals of medicine, weaving in ethics, philosophy, a personal saga, the history of neurosurgery, the mysteries of human memory, and an exploration of human ego." (Sheri Fink, MD, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Five Days at Memorial)
"Dittrich explores the limits of science and the mind. In the process, he rescues an iconic life from oblivion. Dittrich is well aware that while we are the sum of what we may remember, we're also at the mercy of what we can forget. This is classic reporting and myth-making at the same time." (Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Captivating!

Science, history, drama and academic turf wars: I thoroughly enjoyed the information and the narrative style. I thought the narrator did a good job.
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- Amy

Patient H.M. - A minor character

This book is supposed to primarily be about the most important neuroscience patient in history. And he is certainly discussed, but I never really understood exactly what we learned from studying him for so many years. I assume it must have been valuable, but I am hard pressed to understand what was learned that was worth the dismal quality of life of this poor man. Before I even got to the controversial part of the book, that evidently has the neuroscience community up in arms, I had already decided that the person primarily responsible for him a Dr. Corkin, treated him irresponsibly. It was obvious that those treating him had forgotten he was human.

The studies with H.M. just seemed to be series of interviews asking him the same questions, mostly quite inane, and his response which was always consistent. If I, as a total layman figured out after the 2nd or 3rd interview that the guy had no short term memory, I don't get what they were trying to prove by asking him the same question, several times a year over the course of a decade.

But I did find the story of the author's grandparent's fascinating. Creepy, but fascinating.
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- Lulu "I ignore genre labels. Some of my favorite books are outside my genre comfort zone. Listening to audiobooks is still reading. Not theater."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-09-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio