Caldwell Perspective Review: Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

(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.

2016 Book Challenge- A Book Recommended by a Friend

2016 Book Challenge- A Book Recommended by a Friend


When I think about this last June, I can’t decide if it flew by or dragged along. Looking back at all that happened over the last thirty days, those early ones seem like they were eons ago, but at the same time, with it being my last full month in Kuala Lumpur, time went way too fast for my liking. Even with Thad’s embassy Fourth of July bash, our adventure caving trip to Mulu and getting ready to put everything we own into boxes (again!) I did manage to read twelve books this month, a number I found surprisingly high when I went back to my GoodReads account to check.

For this month’s reading challenge, I decided to expand a bit and rather than just read a book recommended by a friend, I went with an entirely new author. (New to me. The internet seems to be well-versed and he’s been publishing for over a decade. I guess I was way out of the loop on this one.) A friend/colleague was telling me about Jasper Fforde, who I was initially drawn to because of his awesome last name. I want a name that starts with two of the same consonants. Maybe I will start going by Mmichelle or Sshell. (The second sounds a bit to snake-like for my liking though.)

Through the month, I got to three of Fford’s books, one stand-alone and two that are part of a literary detective series. After expressing an interesting in Fforde, Nathan brought me a pile of books, mostly part of the Thursday Next detective series, so in I dove. I knew I only had June to make any headway on the books, since I’d have to give the stack back at the end of the month, done or not. I started with The Big Over Easy, a “murder mystery” where the deceased is none other than Humpty Dumpty. This book had me laughing out loud in places. The wittiness of the writing caught me off guard, but had me wishing the copy was my own so I could highlight especially clever phrases.

After thoroughly enjoying the nursery rhyme crimes of The Big Over Easy, I picked up the first in Fforde’s highly popular Thursday Next detective series, The Jane Eyre Affair. Again, the one-liners throughout the book kept me intrigued and I loved the way the author ties reality and fiction into a seamless world where their coexistence isn’t questioned, but I must admit that my favorite part of the Thursday Next books is the side bit where dodos are coveted pets and they “plock, plock” their way around the narrative. Now, I really want a pet dodo!

Overall, I would say that the Fforde books, especially the Thursday Next series, are great for planes and beaches. I’m not a huge detective novel fan, but the literary references keep me guessing, which I love. They are paced quick enough to make a long plane ride a little less painful, but without the inane babbling of what I would normally term a “beach read.” I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next in the series right away, but I will be keeping an eye of Fford and his future publications. He is a great new addition to my reading list. Thanks for the suggestion, Nathan!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

_____ A book published this year– (A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin)

_____A book you can finish in a day-  (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

_____ A book you should have read in school

_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, friend, child or sibling (Jasper Fforde books)

_____ A book published before you were born (And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie)

_____ A book that was banned at some point  (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

____ A book you’ve read at least once   (I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced  by Nujood Ali)