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

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  440 Ratings  ·  73 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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Jun 23, 2014 Tony61 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Mar 30, 2010 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Jan 05, 2017 Jenna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating topic, a strangely written book.

For one, there strangely doesn't seem to be enough information about Halsted to really warrant the title "a bizarre double life." Since his drug habit was in secret, there's seemingly barely any record of it other than "then he would disappear for six months every year and who knows, we can assume drugs." Imber also repeats himself often, sometimes from chapter to chapter, making it seem like either his editor only worked chapter by chapter or there
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
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
Jun 09, 2015 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would never have chosen to read this book; it is a book club selection, not my selection. The book, about the foundation of Johns Hopkins university and hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, drew me in.

The drawback is all the technical medical terminology, but the men and the lives this book describes are fascinating. The difference these founders made in the practice of medicine are relevant to us, today. Halstead developed a sterile operating room, and found successful ways to operate on conditio
Neal Jones
Jul 02, 2012 Neal Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We have a LOT to thank William Stewart Halstead for, and modern medicine wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for him. Breast cancer surgery, hernia repair, even what medical residencies are today all started with this brilliant man. If you enjoy The Knick (which is what initially brought me to this book) or are interested in the history of modern medicine, or even slightly curious about medicine, I can't recommend this book enough. Also... we can thank him for painless dental procedures as ...more
May 08, 2011 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Apr 19, 2010 Jcorbman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Detailed and informative, but also somewhat repetitive. The end gets very technical. Diagrams and a timeline would help.
Elmer T
Jan 23, 2017 Elmer T rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read if you are interested in William Halsted and the early history of medicine. Well written.
Feb 01, 2017 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read-books
Very interesting history of the beginning of safe surgery.
Jan 20, 2014 Comrade_Bazarov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Jun 24, 2010 Daniel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Robert Clancy
Oct 11, 2014 Robert Clancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
This could be subtitled: "The History of Modern American Medicine, 1870-1920." While the central character, Dr. William Halstead (yes, although a New Yorker, Halstead Avenue in Chicago is named after his family), is at the epicenter of this saga, it really is about the founding, funding, running and growth of Johns Hopkins University and Medical School…and the creation of modern medical practices, techniques and training. Halstead is a curious character -- brash, brilliant, idiosyncratic, who pi ...more
Mar 11, 2012 Patricia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
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Dec 05, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm in awe of Dr. Halsted after reading this book and I greatly appreciate what he did to advance the field of surgery. However, I am not in love with the way this author delivered the story. Some details were confusing as many names came up at the same time and then the use of a pronoun forced you to sort out to whom the author was referring. Be prepared also for several tangential biographies of different people who worked with Halsted. The other grievance is several times I came across repeat ...more
Apr 13, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2012 Darcy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Justin Dubin
Aug 11, 2015 Justin Dubin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The well written and well researched story of Dr. William Halstead who is known as the Father of Modern Surgery. The book is an excellent look at the incredibly bizarre life of Halstead which includes his battle with cocaine and morphine addiction. I knew of Halstead prior to reading this but I had not even the remotest idea of how important and influential he truly was. He developed residency, was the founding father of local anesthesia, influenced about every major surgeon ever. The guy is ama ...more
LC Curtis
Jan 25, 2012 LC Curtis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Since he was primarily a man preferring to remain in the shadows, many are not aware about the full extent of Halstead's contribution to surgery. This book gives a rare insight into the life and works of this great man.
I originally became interested in Halstead after learning that The Knick is based loosely on him, and boy, he sure didn't disappoint!
Beautifully written prose, guiding readers through the extensive and illustrious history of Johns Hopkins, and a glimpse into the lives of the Big F
Apr 09, 2014 Oksana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Christine Haas
Oct 15, 2014 Christine Haas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting read that fit nicely with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the Emperor of All Maladies, giving an insight to the development of the premier hospital, John Hopkins, and the surgeon that helped make it so.

The biography jumps around a bit as it focusses on different doctors and there's not much commentary on linking various lifetime episodes, however, it was still fascinating and worth reading.
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