Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich
Random House Publishing Group: 8/9/16
eBook review copy; 464 pages
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by
is a very highly recommended account of his grandfather, Dr. William
Beecher Scoville, an early brain surgeon, and his most famous patient,
Henry Molaison. If you were mesmerized by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, you won't want to miss Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich.
Investigative journalist Luke Dittrich
covers not only the story of Henry Molaison, an epileptic man who is
considered one of the most important neuroscience human research
subjects; he also explores the history of neurosurgery and lobotomies,
and his own family history. Along the way ethical questions are raised
regarding the treatment of Henry, famously only known as Patient H.M.
for years, and how proprietorial researchers are on sharing
Henry and his family agreed to brain surgery in order to stop the
debilitating epileptic seizures he was having. While it did stop the
seizures, it also causes short term amnesia. Henry could no longer
remember any new information or form any new long term memories. After
this he became Patient H.M., one of the most studied individuals over a
span of decades, but also one whose identity was closely guarded.
Dittrich takes the facts of Patient H. M. and early neurosurgery and
makes the story personal. His grandfather was a pioneer in the field and
the one to perform the surgery on Henry, but Dittrich also tells of his
mentally-ill grandmother, and a family secret. In Patient H.M.
the author takes an extremely interesting piece of history and makes it
even more compelling because of the personal connection Dittrich has to
it, while describing the limbo Henry found himself in, with no ties to
The writing is very good and this nonfiction account reads like a novel.
I was immersed in Dittrick's family history, as well as the story of
Henry himself and the history of neurosurgery. The legal fights over
Henry's body and the ending was, well, stunning. You have to read this
book which is sure to be in the top nonfiction of the year.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher for review