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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.

©2016 Luke Dittrich (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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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What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating!

A marvelous neurological biography full of medicine, history and human pathos! Amazingly good! I have read a lot in this field and this is truly a great book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating (and Disturbing) Read

What did you love best about Patient H.M.?

Patient H.M., aside from Phineas Gage, is probably one of the most well known figures we learned about in my graduate neuroscience classes. His contribution to our understanding of memory cannot be emphasized enough. Although we spent a great deal of time in my graduate classes learning about what he contributed to science, he was still alive at the time and therefore we learned nothing about who he was as a person. This book fills in those gaps and gives us a glimpse into Henry as a human being. What's all the more unique is that the author is the grandson of the surgeon that performed Henry's life changing (and quite frankly horrific) operation. It was shocking to read about some of the things neurosurgeons were doing in those days without the slightest bit of evidence that their surgeries were beneficial. Although some aspects of the author's personal life could have been left out (the author's path to journalism and the birth of his daughter, for example) I found his Grandmother's story interesting and it tied in well to Patient H.M.'s story. The story does also jump around a bit within and between chapters, so it was slightly confusing at times, but overall I enjoyed this book.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Interesting story about a notorious neurosurgeon and his patient

I enjoyed the book. As a neurosurgeon, I felt that some of the neurosurgical commentary could use some editing and the pronunciation by the reader was choppy, but overall it was a very enjoyable listen.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Sort of misleading title

Based on the titled I thought this would be a book very much focused on patient HM. However at times I felt like HM was just a side character to the authors family story. The last couple of chapters that really focus on the science and research of HM were how I thought the book should have been portrayed all along. Overall not a bad read however it should have been titled and marketed as a story about the doctor who made patient HM. Not the story of patient HM.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Riveting material; disapointing execution

Meandering tangents -- both personal (e.g. birth of author's daughter and path to career in journalism ) and general historical (e.g. Nuremberg) -- impede any satisfying overarching narrative.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An Evolutionary Tale into Patient HM and the Predictable HealthCare Professionals

A Neurosurgeon will always cut, it's predictable, he never stands in the back if the room to observe. A psychologist will always asks innumerable questions that hint at many roads of possibilities. A Journalist will always find a new, intriguing angle for a story. All predictable. Dittrich engages the audience in a convoluted, yet related story about famous Patient HM. Surprised that some procedures seem so barbaric, not surprising that all professions predictably acted the way the were trained.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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We all have suffered to a degree.

Always question wayward physicians, especially after this sobering read. The soul is within us all.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Awful

Tried to like it. Terribly written. Jumped all over within chapters to different stories with no warning. Ridiculously long drawn out storytelling to get to a point. And that point was usually boring.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great story

What a great lesson in the history of neuroscience. enjoyed the narration very much. This was a perfect relationship between story, after and narrator.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful