Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted
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Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  234 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A major new biography of the doctor who invented modern surgery. Brilliant, driven, but haunted by demons, William Stewart Halsted took surgery from a horrific, dangerous practice to what we now know as a lifesaving art. Halsted was born to wealth and privilege in New York City in the mid-1800s. He attended the finest schools, but he was a mediocre student. His academic in...more
ebook, 412 pages
Published May 15th 2010 by Kaplan (first published 2010)
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Debbie
"Genius on the Edge" is an interesting book describing the medical developments (especially in surgery) during the period of about 1846 to 1922. The first third of the book mainly focused on what surgery was like before this period, on the developments that occurred from 1846 to 1889, and how they affected Halsted's medical training and prompted his surgical innovations. The rest of the book was more a series of short biographies of men who worked with Halsted and the developments they (and he)...more
Tony61
I reserve 5-star ratings for books that have profoundly added to my understanding of the world and have a lasting effect on how I live my life. Gerald Imber, MD, presents William Stewart Halsted as a dedicated innovator who, along with several physicians of the age, changed the practice of medicine with his insight and hard work. As a practicing surgeon himself, Imber is able to give invaluable accuracy to the various advancements to medicine and surgery by Halsted and his colleagues.

Medicine in...more
Rahime
This is a fascinating view of early modern medicine and the establishment of Johns Hopkins (and how it shaped modern medical practice). I'd say it's about 60% a biography of William Halstead and 40% about my first sentence. I didn't know any of the history and really enjoyed it; my sister read it at the same time and said she had read a biography of Dr. Welch that she enjoyed more. I could see how the diversions into other people's stories/lives could be distracting or annoying (sometimes they s...more
Florence
Dr. Halstead was the father of modern surgery. In the mid nineteenth century a compound fracture or appendicitis was essentially a death sentence. Anesthesia didn't exist. Even if a patient could be operated on, surgeons weren't aware of the need to keep the surroundings sterile. If the patient contracted an infection there were no antibiotics to arrest it. So much for the good old days. Dr. Halstead introduced aseptic methods of surgery. He pioneered hernia surgery, mastetectomy to excise breas...more
Neal Jones
I must admit that I felt somewhat mislead by this book's description on its back cover. While the primary subject of this biography is Doctor William Halstead, the bulk of this book is actually about the formation of one of America's premier teaching hospitals: Johns Hopkins. William Stewart Halstead was one of a dozen influential doctors who were instrumental in revolutionizing the techniques of modern surgery. The founding of Johns Hopkins Hospital is part of Halstead's story, so I wasn't too...more
Comrade_Bazarov
As a medical student, I am always fascinated to read about famous physicians who were able to transcend (so to speak) the 'normal' boundaries of their profession and make revolutionary contributions.

William Halsted was that rare breed of physician-scientist who achieved that with his keenness, passion and incredible resourcefulness. Surgery before Halsted was haphazard and shoddy, done with little consideration to minimizing infection, patient comfort or proper technique. With his European trai...more
Mary
Not particularly well-written, but an extremely interesting account of early modern medicine in general, and Johns Hopkins Hospital in particular. I will be seeking out more information on the people,places, and events that were written about; what better review could there be?
Jcorbman
Detailed and informative, but also somewhat repetitive. The end gets very technical. Diagrams and a timeline would help.
Patricia
My purpose for reading this book was two-fold. I'm reading as much as I can about about medicine and doctors to inform the current non-fiction book project that I'm working on. And since my project is essentially a biography, I'm reading biographies to see how other writers approach and manage the material. From Genius on the Edge I learned a great deal about the contemporary history of medicine, especially in the United States in addition to learning about William Steward Halsted in particular....more
Steven
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth

I am interested in this book because it ref's Freud and his cocain addiction and its consequenses.



from the library computer:
Ostensibly a biography of William Stewart Halsted (1852–1922), but the main story is the transformation of medical education in America.Imber (Clinical Surgery/Weill-Cornell School of Medicine) tries valiantly to revivify the elusive Halsted. He was aristocratic and urbane, meticulous in his dress—he sent his shirts to Paris for laundering—and could be cold and imperious. H...more
Daniel
So, the subject of this book was really cool. I loved learning about Halsted and how strange he was, and what things he did that changed surgery. Especially as someone who loves the history of medicine, that was the good part of this book. However, it was written pretty terribly. The style was bad, and, more importantly for a biography, the timeline wasn't consistent. Imber jumps back and forth, mentioning characters as if we know them, 20 pages before they're introduced. We go to 1922, then bac...more
Mary Ann
Genius on the Edge is a fascinating portrait of Dr. William Stewart Halsted, who revolutionized dental surgery and also invented the gallstone extraction, the radical mastectomy, and the resident system of medical education. His disciples went on to found the disciplines of urology and neurosurgery, among other specialties. It's hard to believe that one man could cast such a long shadow and yet virtually disappear from history.

Dr. Halsted achieved all of these momentous things while struggling w...more
Darcy
This book was one of those reads that you can tell is written by a white man well before you even look up anything about who wrote the book. Any mention of women was matched with some sort of disparaging remark about how they looked or what the men thought of them. He presented subjective views as though they are fact, which is really irritating. For example, he wrote about Gertrude Stein failing at the medical school, and ended it by saying, "Much of her writing was obtuse, and though few belie...more
LC Curtis
Stupendous! I can't say enough or urge anyone enough to read this book by Gerald Imber, MD. "The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted" is that. The author, however, chooses not to sensationalize the man or his legend but instead depicts various anecdotes, details, and all manner of interesting historical factoids about the Johns Hopkins Hospital and its School of Medicine in their infancies We can thank Halsted for medical staff who wash hands and wear gloves; he set the course. Re...more
Michael Flick
Disappointing biography of Halsted, the father of modern surgery. The subtitle, "The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted," is misleading: this is more a fragmentary and incomplete history of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hospital. Halsted was an enigmatic, taciturn man (and drug addict) who kept his private life private from his colleagues and students and even his wife--and all his letters to his wife were burnt after her death. There really isn't much left...more
Jenny Brown
The insights into the history of modern surgery, starting in the late 1800s are valuable. But there is a lot of repetition and we don't really learn all that much about the subject, Dr. Halsted, so much as we do the institutional history of Johns Hopkins hospital and medical school.

This is a dry book about the history of surgery, not a look at a "bizarred double life" of anyone.

As a biography, this book is hampered by the lack of primary source materials that would give us insight into the pers...more
Oksana
Great introductory book describing the start of modern surgery, foundation of John Hopkins university/ medical school as well as of William Halsted and his contributions through developing the training program for surgeons, first use of local and general anesthetic, use of sterile gloves, the first successful hernia repair, radical mastectomy, etc. I would recommend this book based on its educational value rather than its writing style: although easy to read, it lacks uniformity and seems to be...more
Audacia Ray
Interesting as a history of modern surgery and the Johns Hopkins Hospital, but not that great as a biography, especially on the "bizarre double life" part.

Halsted was a cocaine and morphine addict who was an extraordinary and innovative surgeon and also disappeared up to 6 months a year to be alone, travel, and probably indulge his addictions. I say "probably" because although his time at Johns Hopkins is pretty well documented, there is NO documentation of the other half of his life. Speculati...more
David
A very informative look at the life of the founder of modern surgery, as well as the people responsible for beginning Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School. The narrative, at times, seems to lack details, possibly because information was not available. All in all, heowever, I enjoyed learning about the transition that occurred in the medical field and surgery during Halsted's time. Being a surgeon myself, I appreciated the look at hopsital life and the development of modern surgical training...more
Kevin A.
The author is a surgeon, not a writer, and this book could have used another draft or two. That having been said, he obviously knows his stuff, and this story of the great 19th century surgeon William Halstead was new to me. He pioneered surgical techniques that were in use for decades following his death, and was instrumental in the creation of Johns Hopkins as the preeminent medical school of the early twentieth century. This despite having done House-like personality and drug issues.
Conchetta
This gives a different view of medical education in the US in the early 20th century than the book 'The Great Influenza'. It concentrates more on the education of surgeons and on Johns Hopkins medical school and hospital. The main character, Halstead, became addicted to cocaine while trying to find a good local anesthetic. Ironically, the cure at the time for cocaine addiction was morphine to which he also became addicted. He functioned though.
Peter Bistolarides
As the author himself states, this was not meant to be a definitive scholarly work on Halsted. It does present revelations about his addiction, and presents a picture of the struggles in bringing American surgery (and medicine in general) into the modern age. Interestingly, some of these issues persist. Imbed cites Michael Bliss' biographies of Osler and Cushing, both of which I have read. I would love to see Halsted as a subject of a Bliss biography.
Bruno Martinez-Leo
It's a good book for the uninitiated in the story of modern American surgery and the life of William Halsted; sometimes the author repeats himself along the different chapters although it is a very easy-to-read book and a very good reference for scholars trying to know more about the founder of modern surgery practice. I also think that the subtitle "The bizarre life..." Is exaggerated.
Danette
Not bad. Interesting history of the father of modern surgery and his inextricable linkage with Johns Hopkins. A bit technical for the lay personin that surgeries and anotomical intricacies are widely used. I often felt a bit whiplashed by the timing of things and the pace lagged a bit in the middle. A "bizarre double life" was never really fleshed outbut all in all a decent read."
Laure
This book is about Dr. Halsted, credited with inventing local anesthesia using cocaine (to which he became addicted as well as morphine), aseptic surgical technique, radical mastectomy, hernia repair, and thyroid surgery. Interesting look at the state of medicine in the late 1800s-early1900s but book dragged on at times, with author repeating himself several times.
Kama
Needed an editor in a serious way. I invoked the Nancy Pearl rule on p. 95. I learned about his "bizarre double life" within the first few pages, and then the author went on a bunch of tangents about Johns Hopkins, Austrian medicine, and people who were friends with Halsted. If he'd actually stuck to talking about Halsted I might have been more compelled.
Jeff
Learning about the life of William Stewart Halsted and his contributions to medicine, as well as the rise of The Johns Hopkins hospital, is very, very interesting. What undermines the book is the writing -- the author circles around and around the same information. I think this book could be around 100 pages shorter if the redundancy was removed.
Ellen Williams
Interesting history of surgery....from the butchers of the civil war to the beginnig of modern day surgery and the perils of learning about the benefits of newly idenitifed chemicals and their adverse effects......recommend...
Caroline
Jun 26, 2011 Caroline rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Gretchen
Such fascinating material! Sadly, though the writing is actually rather good, Dr. Imber loses the thread a few times... and is a tad repetitious while recovering. The editor kinda fell asleep on this one. I still gave it 4 stars because I cannot believe how little of this information I knew. Thanks to Gretchen for the rec!
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