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An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug, Cocaine

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  642 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
Acclaimed medical historian Howard Markel traces the careers of two brilliant young doctors--Sigmund Freud, neurologist, and William Halsted, surgeon--showing how their powerful addictions to cocaine shaped their enormous contributions to psychology and medicine.
When Freud and Halsted began their experiments with cocaine in the 1880s, neither they, nor their colleagues, h
Paperback, 314 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by Vintage (first published 2011)
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Oct 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: M
I love good non-fiction reads -- the ones that engage you and also make you feel intelligent for reading them. This book, the story of two highly accomplished individuals' struggles with cocaine, falls squarely into that category.

Freud was a cocaine addict? Who knew? What does this do to any credibility his ideas have at this point? Okay, I'm exaggerating. According to this book, Freud ended his battle with cocaine prior to writing "The Interpretation of Dreams." Although apparently, I'm not the
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I'll ever unlearn the terrible things done to Freud's (and his patient's) nose in this book.
I was first introduced to Sigmund Freud as a teenager, and, as most of his theories seemed to revolve around sex and inhibition (joyfully celebrated in song by Melanie Safka), I wholeheartedly embraced his ideas. It was some years later that someone commented to me, "Well, you know he got half of Vienna hooked on cocaine, right?" Well, no, I didn't, and after reading this book I'm still not convinced that's an accurate assessment.

This book explores the history of cocaine as a medicinal aid throu
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever thought that you could give up eating ice cream by smoking crack? What about giving up morphine and taking up the habit of snorting cocaine? What about developing a hierarchy of doctors who can do your job while you get high on coke and morphine? Well what seems obvious today was discovered though experimentation by the medical intelligentsia who encountered different miracle drugs in the past.

Less than 100 years ago Sigmund Freud obsessively experimented with cocaine. He even mi
Maryann Jorissen
There were interesting bits of history throughout the book. However, the general story did not flow well. The story line was hard to follow. Plus the intellect of these two people were so complex, that it would seem difficult to write of their personality on the premise of a single trait. The main take- home message: they succeeded in spite of their addiction.

Two medical pioneers -- including pioneers in the potential medical use of, and actual personal misuse of, cocaine. Howard Markel paints a cautionary tale of addiction that powerfully resonates a century and more later.

Many people know a bit about Sigmund Freud's history with cocaine, despite the best efforts of generations of Freudian acolytes and disciples to cover up just how much he used (or abused), how long he used it, and how much it affected his general work habits and his psychological
Andrew Georgiadis
The depths of the mind

" tempting as it is to singularly ascribe all of Sigmund's revolutionary ideas to his cocaine use, this tack ultimately constitutes as simplistic and unsatisfying explanation. The "Interpretation of Dreams" covers a skein of thoughts and ideas beyond those set in motion by the Irma episode. Freud's psychological constitution was marked by multiple compulsions, perfectionism, risk taking resentments, loneliness, alienation, emotional pain, traumatic family experiences,
Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to go ahead and give this four stars even though by the end I felt, as I often do when reading non fiction, that it got repetitive and draggy by the end.
Anatomy is a well researched and well written if somewhat imaginative biography of cocaine as a drug as well as its impact on some of the finest minds in medicine. Did you know cocaine was used as an anesthetic? Or that many stressed out moms were prescribed morphine? In short it;s a miracle that we all made it here today given what we
I enjoyed this way, way more than I thought I would. Dr. Markel is a wonderfully immersive writer, taking us inside the heads of two fascinating physicians and their dizzying spirals into addiction. I love that there's a voice to the narrative; I get a real sense that I'm being told a story by someone who's enraptured by the material he's found and can't wait to share it with us. I like everything about it: the imagined dialogues, the fugues on the history of the coca plant, the scenes at the sa ...more
Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A highly readable account of the cocaine abuse of Halstead and Freud at a time when the devastating harm cocaine could do to an abuser were not fully known. Towards the end of the book, when Halstead and Freud were no longer abusing drugs, or, in Halstead's case, no longer regularly abusing cocaine, Markel seems to go off on tangents and I found myself wondering what these little asides had to do with these doctors' drug abuse. Overall, though, this was a great read that gave a high-level pictur ...more
Pamela J
Wow. Markel's well-crafted prose imparts knowledge, humor, and a surge of interest in the topic. His knowledge of medical history and its context is impressive. Interesting to think there was a time when cocaine use was not demonized, yet alcohol and opium were. Everyone knows that the original Coca-Cola derived its magic from the eponymous leaves. But before Coke, there was vin Mariani.
Interesting portraits of late 19th century personas who liberally used and became addicted to cocaine: Freud-
Dec 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this with great hesitation, but it was my Book Group choice for January. I found it to be an interesting change from my usual choices. It is a little slow at the start, but becomes absorbing when you realize you are reading about giants of medicine, Freud, Halsted, Osler, and the era when cocaine was considered to be the miracle drug to cure all. The addiction of Freud & Halsted as they used themselves as trial subjects, is a major part of the book.
Not a book for everyone, but writ
Dave Biggus
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's so much of this history I've never known about, or just incidentally. Howard Markel is an excellent historical writer, bringing together the beginning of commercial cocaine, and it's subsequent abuse by Freud and William Halsted (responsible for many modern surgical techniques). Fascinating stuff, combined with dozens of pictures (I love history books littered with pics, to put you THERE). It was a page turner from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very, very interesting. There was one grammatical error that I spotted but nonetheless, I felt as though I was learning a great deal more about Freud and early medicine than I expected. It is truly an interesting and informative book. It would be a good book for a nonfiction book club selection.
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, esp for me as a Johns Hopkins staff member, to know more of the "story behind the story" about these famous personages, both doctors. Since cocaine is still a huge problem in the city of Baltimore, it was also interesting to read about its history. This was actually a quick read, and left me wanting to know more about the lives of both Freud and Halsted.
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good book about how cocaine addiction affected the lives of two medical pioneers (Freud and Halsted), how cocaine use evolved into abuse, and what medicine/surgery and psychiatry were like at the turn of the 20th century.
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who would have known? . . . Sigmund a coke addict. . . just saying . . . Fascinating read.
Jul 24, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-people, history
Found this via NY Times review:
Elementary Particle
It was a good book albeit due to the lack of documents many aspects are just suppositions from my point of view.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little repetitive in the opening chapters, but the look at two influential minds struggling with addiction is worth it.
Sally Anne
The beginning is a little rough, writing-wise, but it smoothes out. A lively, interesting read, if not terribly deep.
Aug 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book--well written, well researched.
Samantha Stambaugh
Very interesting read.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read about the fathers of psychoanalysis and modern day surgery and their struggles with the brand new "wonder drug" cocaine. Eye opening in many ways....
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not only an excellent book for understanding the disease of addiction but a great piece of history well researched.
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An Anatomy of Addiction weaves together, in alternating chapters, the lives of two major contributors to medicine, with a focus on their struggles with the disease of cocaine addiction. The book is a model of writing by a physician/medical historian. Markel, the historian, probes the sources, evaluates other interpretations of the sources and constructs a readable narrative. I especially appreciated his measured assessment of various arguments over the influence of cocaine on Freud's ideas. Mark ...more
Daniel Cox
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting and very well written book which chronicles the cocaine addiction of two of the most prominent medical minds of the late 19th, early 20th century, Sigmund Freud and William Halsted. The latter may not be a familiar name, but he was one of the four founding physicians of the new Johns Hopkins medical school and was perhaps the most famous surgeon of his time. The author discusses at great length the details of their addiction and the role that it might have played in the de ...more
B. Rule
Freud and Halstead are both fascinating figures, but the author of this book never convincingly ties the two together in a way that makes sense. Presumably the idea is that one ultimately overcame his addiction while the other wrestled with it until the end, but the story is hampered by laughable prose and a muddied thesis that is not really borne out by the evidence. The book ends on a moralizing note, but it's fairly clear (and at one point expressly noted by the author) that some of the great ...more
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"One of the most maddening features is the malady's stealthy ability to convince the sufferer and his family that nothing, nothing at all, is askew or dangerous about something that most decidedly is. Indeed, if you were going to design addiction as a disease, one that conspires within the brain for long periods before eventually killing that person off and proceeding on to the next vulnerable victim, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a more diabolical symptom than denial, the need to le ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a remarkable book about how cocaine affected the lives of Sigmund Freud and William Halsted. While a bit biased against cocaine, the author depicts the lives of these men otherwise accurately and attempts to be fair with his misgivings. It's obvious that the author looks down upon or negatively at the idea of addiction. This tone is carried throughout the book and was the only thing I did not like about it. Also, I did not see the need to insert his own medical opinions at certain points ...more
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Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. His books include the award- winning Quarantine! and When Germs Travel. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Engla ...more
More about Howard Markel...
“Such elusive puzzles recall the historian's basic dilemma: the absence of evidence does not always signify evidence of absence. In the end, we will likely never know.” 7 likes
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