In the summer of 1953, maverick neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville performed a groundbreaking operation on an epileptic patient named Henry Molaison. Dittrich's investigation confronts unsettling family secrets and reveals the dark roots of modern neuroscience, raising troubling questions that echo into the present day.
In the summer of 1953, maverick neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville performed a groundbreaking operation on an epileptic patient named Henry Molaison. But it was a catastrophic failure, leaving Henry unable to create long-term memories.
Scoville's grandson, Luke Dittrich, takes us on an astonishing journey through the history of neuroscience, from the first brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the New England asylum where his grandfather developed a taste for human experimentation. Dittrich's investigation confronts unsettling family secrets and reveals the dark roots of modern neuroscience, raising troubling questions that echo into the present day.
Luke Dittrich has been working as a journalist since 1997, and his on-the-job experiences have included running a marathon in Antarctica and walking 340 miles along the United States/Mexico border. He is a contributing editor at Esquire, and his articles have appeared in a variety of anthologies, including Best American Crime Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Science and Nature Writing. A story he wrote about the survivors of a devastating Missouri tornado won the 2012 National Magazine Award for feature writing. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and this is his first book.
"A remarkable examination of how neuroscience works" Economist, Books of the Year "Luke Dittrich has achieved something remarkable in Patient H.M. This book succeeds on every level: as a fresh look at the most famous patient in medical history, as an expose of our dark history of psychiatry and neurosurgery, and, most powerfully, as a deeply personal investigation into the author's past. And yet, it's still a page-turner that reads like a thriller. It deserves a spot next to the great medical histories The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Ghost Map, and The Emperor of All Maladies." -- Susannah Calahan, author of Brain on Fire "In Patient H.M. Luke Dittrich explores the limits of science and the mind. In the process, he rescues an iconic life from oblivion... This is classic reporting and myth-making at the same time." -- Colum McCann "It felt as if I read this book in one breath. Patient H.M. is a fascinating, powerful investigation, a matroyshka doll of nested stories about the past and present, remembering and forgetting. Luke Dittrich's quest to understand the amnesiac patient who taught the world so much about memory - and ourselves - leads him to the shoals of his own family tragedy, and an ending that will break your heart. But it's his beautiful unfolding of the story, the art of his sentences and reportage, that you'll never forget." -- Michael Paterniti "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. Sweeping, meticulous, and seamless - with an ending that, like the best of scientific investigations, challenges everything that came before it. A monumental contribution to our understanding of medical research, and ourselves." -- Dr Sheri Fink, Pulitzer prize winner