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The Wet Engine: Exploring Mad Wild Miracle of Heart

4.38  ·  Rating Details  ·  214 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
"Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old."

The heart: it is known as the seat of the soul, the power house of the body, the essence of spirituality. No other bodily or
Hardcover, 186 pages
Published May 1st 2005 by Paraclete Press
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6th out of 16 books — 2 voters
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81st out of 122 books — 106 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 518)
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Nov 23, 2015 Melody rated it really liked it
I love Brian Doyle more with every book of his I read. This book's genesis was his own baby son's malformed heart and subsequent heart surgeries, which gives even more vulnerability than usual to the writing. And with Doyle, that's saying a lot, because he writes with his skin off normally.

I love his style, which is not quite stream of consciousness but certainly packs more words per sentence than the average. None of the words are superfluous or gratuitous and the sentences tend to pile emotion
Jan 28, 2015 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wow. This book is incredible. I love Doyle's writing here: stream of consciousness, but everything is so beautifully connected, except when it isn't. I love his descriptions of the heart as an organ, I love the history of cardiology, I love his stories of his son, I love all the other random stories tucked in here -- the way that they are connected to his understanding of the heart, or they're not, but that's what makes them connected -- because they're about people, and compassion, and experien ...more
Catherine Theriault
Nov 30, 2013 Catherine Theriault rated it it was amazing
This book found me after a year of sadness, joy, and gratitude around matters of the heart. Since November 16, 2012 my son has braved six, yes 6, heart surgeries. He is still in recovery and continues to get stronger and heartier every day. Throughout this entire journey he has exposed every facet of his heart, from its capacity to shut down and rev up again with new valves, to his capacity to exude love and grace in the midst of crushing pain. I admire him immensely and love him more than I tho ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Kristine rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Doyle is an essayist and in this little book he writes about his son who was born missing
one of the chambers of his heart. Doyle is brilliant will touch your heart with his stories.
Jul 09, 2014 Bobby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a LOVE story. A love story for Doyle's son Liam and for the remarkable Dr. Dave. Brian Doyle lays his own heart bare, sharing stories about his infant son ( now teen), and the miraculous and ordinary events that encompass their lives. Dr. Dave is central throughout, a pediatric cardiologist who has devoted his live to saving lives. Before or after reading this book, be sure to tell your own kid how remarkable he or she is : give them a hug and kiss and relish their healthy body. Thi ...more
Mar 26, 2016 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
An unassuming book with a simple cover and only a little over a hundred pages, but one with a profound effect. I generally prefer stories to creative non-fiction as a great story can transcend even the worst editing and writing mistakes, but even well written creative non-fiction can leave me cold and asking "okay, but so what?". This book was visceral, which made up for some of the quirks of a genre that hasn't yet matured, and kind. Much of creative non-fiction (especially memoirs) seeks to sh ...more
Aug 25, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it
What an interesting little book! Given my life over the past two years, I have also wondered at the miracle that is the heart, and I've noticed how much we use the word every day. This book put words to some of my feelings, and it was really neat!
Dec 01, 2013 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The love and passion these doctors have for what they do was inspiring. Brian Doyle described the heart beautifully. The gratitude and awe he has for these people who saved his son shines through.
Jan 06, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
When Brian Doyle's son Liam was born, he was missing a chamber in his heart. This led to two surgeries, the first when Liam was six months old and then again at 18 months. The Wet Engine follows Doyle's telling of this experience and, as well, serves as a starting point for so many other observations as Doyle explores "the scientific, emotional, literary, philosophical, and spiritual understandings of the heart ...."

Doyle is a storyteller, and he weaves together this particular journey beautiful
Andrew Morris
Dec 13, 2011 Andrew Morris rated it it was amazing
Brian Doyle's The Wet Engine, is inspired by Liam, Doyle's son, who was born with three chambers in his heart instead of four. However, in many ways, The Wet Engine is not about his son. In the classic way of essays The Wet Engine wanders through all the elements around the central issue, from his son's doctor and his wife, the doctors mother, hearts, both emotional and physical, World War II, 9/11, and also his son.
Brian Doyle's works are always very personal. He frequently uses running phras
Beth Bagby
Sep 14, 2014 Beth Bagby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone who has both given birth and sat in a room with a doctor listening and processing the implications of a serious diagnosis, there were many things about this book that hit home for me. I liked it a lot, maybe not loved it, but it is certainly I book that I will tell people about. (And have already). As a parent, there is no greater concern than the well being and health of your children. Brian Doyle takes the birth defect of his own son's 3 chambered heart and gives us this book about ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Cortney rated it liked it
I've only gotten through the introduction and I am in love with this beautiful little book!!! Can't wait to dive into the contours of the heart!.....Unfortunately I'm disappointed with this one. I expected so much more from these pages. I fully expected a deeper and more spiritual look into our miraculous hearts. It turns out there were only a few mentionings of such depth, but full of little stories that at times I felt were lacking. There were some heartfelt tales for sure, just too many disjo ...more
Jan 08, 2016 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading
Originally read October 2013:
I love, love, loved this book. So much.
Brian Doyle, writing about his own son, born with only 3 chambers in his heart, takes on the matters of the human heart in general. It's about the heart, anatomically, but also about love, and all of those other things we attribute to the heart.

"For our hearts are not pure; our hearts are filled with need and greed as much as with love and grace; and we wrestle with our hearts all the time. The wrestling is who we are. How we wr
Josephine Ensign
Jun 30, 2015 Josephine Ensign rated it it was ok
A pleasant ramble of a slim book, but nothing particularly grabbed me and I had no dog-eared pages once I was done. That does not happen very often, for typically there is something on at least one page of a book that makes me want to mark and re-visit later.
Jul 08, 2014 Jenn rated it really liked it
A short but poignant read. I love how Doyle mixes history and research and real life stories. I love how his voice shows through the narrative and breaks the conventions of writing to produce a thought-provoking and heart-feeling book.
Brian Doyle’s memoir tells the harrowing story of his young son being diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Through a collection of essays, each touching upon some aspect of his experience, Doyle shows the absolutely horrifying reality of a parent on the brink of losing their child. His vulnerability and stark utter terror are palpable as he maneuvers through the medical system while reflecting upon his worthiness as a parent. As usual, Doyle’s style is so quirky, amusing and unlikely, you w ...more
Feb 19, 2014 Myrn54 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Myrn54 by: My mother, a month before she died.
Brian Doyle pulled me into his prose poetry and long alliterative sentences, and left me at the other end amazed and opened. Beautiful language. Beautiful sentiments. Unique way for me (a doctor) to learn about the heart, sucked to the inside of its slick pumping walls, and disgorged in its flood of oxygenated ideas. Read it like a meditative night-time selection, chunks at a time.
Will read it again. And maybe again.
Mar 02, 2015 Inna rated it it was amazing
What a book.

The Wet Engine is all about heart. The physical heart and the emotional heart and the everything-in-between heart.
It reads like no other book I've read before.
Brian Doyle breaks all the rules. A sentence runs on for a page and a half. Seven adjectives pile up next to each other. Quote marks? Who needs 'em.
It's crazy and ridiculous and it works and I love it.

Yes, there are a few swear words and a few pages that I skimmed. But I don't really care.

This book is magical and fascinating
Jun 19, 2014 Jill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical
I think I was expecting something more along the lines of Mary Roach - science woven through a human interest story and a sociological lens. This is not that book, but it is worth it's own look, as Doyle writes this ode not so much to the heart as the doctor who saved his son's heart. It truly is a love poem, and a prayer. I'm not sure who this book was written for, but it's sweet and short and full of lists and lacking in commas or breaks and full of "heart" and so it begs to be read. Enjoy!
Liz VanDerwerken
Aug 14, 2014 Liz VanDerwerken rated it it was amazing
Brian Doyle's writing style is lyrical, poetic, and poignant, unlike many other things that I have read. It took a few pages to get used to his stream-of-consciousness prose, but I love the way he expresses awe and wonder through his words. The heart is an amazing machine and this book is a beautiful meditation on our heart in all of its many settings. It's short and a quick read, and really wonderful.
Meera Nair
Mar 30, 2013 Meera Nair rated it really liked it
Brian Doyle's gorgeous lyrical exploration of the heart in all it's forms-metaphoric, physical, human and animal in language that is always transporting and often heartbreaking. Like the best essays, these are discursive and playful, yet deeply researched and even more deeply felt. I lingered over the sentences. A book to go back to when you want to be renewed.
Matt Elerding
Aug 30, 2009 Matt Elerding rated it really liked it
Once you've fallen victim to Brian's style, you'll find yourself being a sucker for anything that he writes - regardless of the topic.

This book is rather heavy in that it deals with the faulty heart of one of his twin sons. It is a touching story and very well written.

It's a little, short, quick book. Read it. You'll be glad you did.

Aug 30, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing
It is hard to describe this stunning little book about a father's love for his son who was born with only 3 (instead of 4) chambers of his heart; the doctor from Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon; and the reflections on the heart via heart-rending stories from around the world. A lovely read for anyone and everyone.
Mar 04, 2011 Susie rated it it was amazing
This is a book that will make you laugh and cry. Brian Doyle is one of my favorite writers and this is the story of his son who was born with a single ventricle and is a tribute to Dave McIrvin - the pediatric cardiologist who gave and continues to give great care to Brian's son.
Rebecca Blair
Mar 08, 2014 Rebecca Blair rated it really liked it
Loved it!
Jul 19, 2009 Anjuli rated it it was amazing
If I could give this amazing little book a 10, I would. Brian Doyle's writing style is so unique, yet you can easily relate to it. I have never seen an author manipulate words like Doyle does. Reading this makes me want to write...and read every work by Brian Doyle.
Chris Giovagnoni
Sep 04, 2011 Chris Giovagnoni rated it liked it
A odd little book that is hard to classify. It's an homage to the heart. Emotionally. Spiritually. Historically. Scientifically. Uniquely written and worth a read. It'll give you a new perspective for the amazing miracle the heart is.
Dec 18, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
This book is about how the author's son was born with a heart defect. I read this book for my creative nonfiction writing class. I enjoyed reading this memoir that is more in the form of a personal essay than a biography. Great read.
Jul 15, 2012 Heidi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
"People will tell you the most amazing stories if only you ask" (p.78). The only weakness of this book is that I wish it went on for many more pages. Doyle is a heartfelt writer who pulls you into whatever he writes about.
Feb 12, 2015 Koa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
For such a small book, it packs such a large punch. The perfect mix of history, science, and human emotion. I will forever refer to babies as "new people" and will be pursuing matters of the heart further.
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Congenital Heart ...: The Wet Engine - Have you read it? 1 4 Mar 03, 2012 05:59PM  
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Doyle's essays and poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The American Scholar, Orion, Commonweal, and The Georgia Review, among other magazines and journals, and in The Times of London, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Kansas City Star, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Ottawa Citizen, and Newsday, among other newspapers. He is a book reviewer for The Oregonian and a contributing ess ...more
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