(This review was first published in The Caldwell Perspective-
The history of medical advances is riddled with suspect practices and ideas that with hindsight seem less than stellar. Luke Dittrich’s new book takes a close look at mid-century neurologists who were operating at the height of the lobotomy crazy, one fueled by open access to insane asylums and mental health wards. (In a short two-year period in the 1950’s, the state of Connecticut alone authorized 550 such surgeries, the vast majority performed on women in an attempt to cure their “hysteria,” forcing them to conform to the expected role of docile and meek spouses so prized in housewives of the era.)
Excellent narrative writing, combined with the fascinating history of the brain and memory research in the United States creates a spellbinding tale, but with Dittrich’s personal connection to the #2 lobotomy surgeon in the world, the story of medical research dovetails with his personal history to create characters who are more than just names on documents. While his discoveries do not always paint his great grandfather in a favorable light, Dittrich refuses to shy away from asking difficult questions about the practice, its history and its seemingly limitless practice in New England mental institutions. Investigation of ethical lines within medical research is an overarching theme of the book, delving into the murky gray areas of consent and the debate about human research.
Fans of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will want to head to the bookstore today to pick up Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, Luke Dittrich’s newly released narrative non-fiction publication, a great companion read that continues the exploration of what we, as society, are willing to condone in the name of medical research and advancement.