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Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  3,022 Ratings  ·  540 Reviews
For readers of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Hare with Amber Eyes comes a propulsive, haunting journey into the secret history of brain science by Luke Dittrich, whose grandfather performed the surgery that created the most studied human research subject of all time: the amnesic known as Patient H.M.

In the late 1930s, in asylums and hospitals across America,
Audio CD, 15 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Books on Tape (first published April 7th 2016)
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Devin I'm not sure that that's exactly a question, but yes, in part this book is about the patient H.M. It's also in parts about the author's grandparents…moreI'm not sure that that's exactly a question, but yes, in part this book is about the patient H.M. It's also in parts about the author's grandparents his GF who performed the surgery, and his grandmother who suffered from apparently schizophrenia. As well as many of the other researchers involved in the life of the patient.

Yes, the surgery did reduce his frequency and severity of seizures, though he continued to take medication for the duration of his life.(less)
Kate In 1953 he was referred to William Beecher Scoville, a neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital, for treatment.

Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes

On December 5, 2008, the front page of the New York Times included an unusual item: H. M., Whose Loss of Memory Made Him Unforgettable, Dies. It was hardly the first time that an obit piece had appeared on the front page, but it is unlikely that many with quite so little public recognition had ever appeared there. The “H.M.” in question was one Henry Gustave Molaison. He has been the inspiration for many books, at least one play and a major motion picture. Mostly, though, while he had never s

Patient H.M. may in fact be the most famous amnesia patient in history but frankly I knew nothing about him. After reading a few reviews regarding the book of same name, I became curious to know more, not only due to the nature of Patient H.M.’s illness but also because much of the story takes place in institutions in Connecticut that I have visited and have familiarity. I was also curious about H.M himself, and what motivated the author, the grandson of Dr. William Scoville, a noted
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a story about H. M., the world's most famous neuroscience case study. Henry had debilitating epilepsy. In his 20s he had a medial temporal lobectomy to reduce his symptoms. The surgery was a success but H. M., was left with catastrophic amnesia. H. M. could meet you ten different times and never remember the interlude. Henry was studied for decades and the data he produced would revolutionize our understanding of memory. Interestingly, the grandson of the man who did the psychosurgery wr ...more
Joy Clark
I was on my predoctoral internship when H.M. died, and I remember watching the brain cutting as it streamed live over the internet. H.M. was one of the first case studies I learned about in graduate school, and I use him frequently in my own teaching to illustrate basic neuroscience concepts. In my mind, he is a legend, almost mythical in status. Dittrich's book provides another layer to the story of H.M. and the many neuroscientists and neurosurgeons that worked with him. H.M.'s is not the only ...more
"Lobotomy." This psycho- surgical term is one which has returned to the public's consciousness very recently, with a spotlight on the famous Kennedy family. A book, newspaper accounts, magazine features such as the one in People's Weekly described Rosemary Kennedy and her perceived unmanageable "flaw" which led the parents to lobotomy. This has reignited interest in a procedure that was controversial in its merits when practiced through the 1930’s to the 1970’s; the opportunity to learn more is ...more
Britta Böhler
Absolutely fantastic read. If you are interested in the story of modern brain/memory research, this book is a must-read.
Excellent (the research, the writing), riveting (the story), heartbreaking (H.M. and all the other patients mentioned, including the author's grandmother), sickening (most of the doctors and researchers mentioned).
Interesting and full of historical progression to the study and surgery of the brain during the last century USA. How in and out of institutional care or hospital settings, the occasion and purpose of the surgical interventions to mental health or emotive issues lead to mapping for function brain knowledge.

All of this is in minutia detail to place, time frame, historical precedents too, in most cases. It is not an easy read book, and takes tangents barely related, or clearly off subject through
This book is much more than the title suggests. Yes, a biography of Henry Molaison "Patient H.M.", the most studied brain in documented history, but also a history of neuroscience and neurosurgery in the mid-twentieth century, a personal family history of the author, a psychiatric case study of amnesia, and finally a bitter legal/ professional feud that cost careers and reputations. Luke Dittrich is a journalist, but he is also the grandson of William Scoville, one of the preeminent neurosurgeon ...more
Angus McKeogh
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was an ARC from Phenomenal read. As a scientist and secondary to the supposed fame of the main character of the book, I was mildly surprised to find out I'd never heard of him. So the story overall was fascinating. The author's personal connection to the story was gripping. And ultimately the book finished on a whole side piece which revolved around scientific research, intrigue, and ethics that was extremely engaging. There were definitely some devious characters who dealt w ...more
Jenni Ogden
Luke Dittrich, the author, and a prize-winning journalist, has written a fascinating, well-researched, and brave book about patient H.M. and Dittrich’s own grandfather, William Beecher Scoville, the neurosurgeon who performed the bilateral hippocampectomy that resulted in H.M’s dramatic and global amnesia, and precipitated him into his future as the most famous and studied medical case of all time. Of course, H.M. was never aware of his fame, although his comments sometimes hinted that he had a ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
This is a non-fiction book about Patient H.M., whose name was Henry Molaison. It’s a tragic story of a man used as a human guinea pig for decades. He was only 27 years old when he received a radical new lobectomy to cure him of epilepsy, which left him with short-term amnesia. He then became a live research study for the rest of his life, until his death at age 82. Interestingly, the author of this book is the grandson of William Beecher Scoville, the man who performed the lobectomy on Henry. Dr ...more
While this book had interesting information about the history of lobotomy and mental health treatment over the past 150 years, it jumped around quite a bit and felt a bit jumbled. The attempts to weave together Henry M.'s story and the history of the surgeon who performed his lobotomy was not entirely successful. There were too many other patients and other surgeons muddled the story and made it hard to follow.

(Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a copy of this book in exchange for an ho
Montzalee Wittmann
Sep 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich is a book about the history of brain surgery in general but I was more hoping it was about the patient HM. The writing was excellent and the information of the history of the the various treatments used on people with "mental illness" was interesting and appalling at the same time but very little was about this particular patient really. There was a great deal about the authors family, other patients, POW's, etc. It was very interesting but just a little misleading ...more
Olivia Farr
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Patient H.M." is a beautifully and lyrically written work of nonfiction about H.M., the history of medicine and neuroscience, the doctors who treated H.M. and the author's own life (the author is the grandson of the doctor who treated H.M.). All medical, science, and psychology students know the immortal patient H.M. whose experiences taught us so much about the brain and memory.

As a doctoral student, I remember hearing about the death of H.M. and learning his identity in awe of this individua
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Most excellent. Horrifying, fascinating, educational. Keep a modern medical dictionary handy if you are not a neurologist, however.
That said, it is very approachable and is very engaging; even humorous, at times.
A darkly intriguing true tale, very much worth the read.
This story skips around a lot. I remember thinking if I had been listening to the audiobook I would have thought for sure the file was messed up.

Despite being an unconventional method of storytelling, I can't imagine the story being told any other way. The author makes it work.

The story itself is horrifying and brings into question the ethics of medical research. Is it ok to use psychiatric patients to perform experimental brain surgery? I would think the obvious answer is no.

The author's gran
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Stars.
Loved it.

My only gripes were I wish it had included more on Henry and at times I had trouble piecing the whole story/timeline of everything together.

However, overall, it was a great book!
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
A chilling look into 20th century psychiatric medicine and “psychosurgery”, when lobotomies (and lots of other barbarisms) were the treatments du jour. A fascinating read.
Some memorabilia. I've always envied those in possession of good memories because mine is pretty bad. I started to really enjoy the book from the section about procedural/ declarative memory (mirror drawing task, motor skills, etc.). Smiled during the "sun-of-a-bitch episode. Not an even read (some parts seemed to be just a filler) but still, overall, i am not regretting spending time with this story. 3.6 stars from me.
Lew Button
Aug 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich; Random House
I heard about a scientist who was doing experiments on frogs. One day he cut the leg off of a frog and said, “Jump” and the frog jumped. He cut off two legs and said, “Jump” and once again the frog jumped. He had the same result when he cut off a third leg. The he finally cut off the fourth leg and said, “Jump”. This time the frog didn’t move and the scientist wrote in his journal, “When you cut off a frog’s legs it goes deaf”.
I know that is a dumb stor
It's the 1940s. You're depressed. Maybe you hear voices, maybe not. You're anxious and increasingly unable to get through the day. You're sexually obsessed. You're aggressive sometimes. You're a woman. You're married. You have money for the best care.

Welcome to the insane asylum, euphemistically called The Institute of Living. They'll start out with conservative treatment: freezing cold packs, high temperature treatment designed to "burn" out the demons that haunt you, and the ever helpful shoc
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich is a very highly recommended account of his grandfather, Dr. William Beecher Scoville, an early brain surgeon, and his most famous patient, Henry Molaison. If you were mesmerized by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, you won't want to miss Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich.

Investigative journalist Luke Dittrich covers not only the story of Henry Molaison,
Christina Dudley
Fans of brain books will be familiar with the cast of characters and a lot of the how-the-brain-works and history of science material in PATIENT H.M., but the author covers new ground in detailing Henry Molaison's life and tying it to the author's own grandfather, who was a famous neurosurgeon.

Henry Molaison suffered from severe epilepsy after an accident in his childhood. After years on increasing (and not very helpful) anti-epileptic drugs, he and his parents turned to lobotomy surgery as a po
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kept pushing other books ahead of this one on my Kindle. For obvious reasons. It's not what you'd call cheerful or "happy-ending-ish", right? But finally, I decided to bite the bullet and crack open the book. Wow! This has become more of a page-turner than most of the so-called ones I've read recently. Very well-written; perfectly staged to move from one aspect of the story to another and back again. The true story is amazingly fresh and insightful with regard to the field of neurosurgery and ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a Goodreads win review. This is a fascinating book about memory, madness, and family secrets. My mother had electric shock treatments to help her depression when I was a child. This book has scientific experiments in it.
Rebecca Treiman
Aug 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nancy Regan
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unputdownable nonfiction is a joy to find and read. I savoured every thread of this story, including the one that takes a backseat to Patient H. M.: the story of the author's grandmother, and his grandfather's concerns and actions that she should become a "healthy" (read "tractable") woman. Bambam deserves a biography of her own. I hope that Patient H. M. and Henrietta Lacks are comparing stories somewhere in the afterlife.
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, history, biography
This is the story of Dr. William Beecher Scoville who was the primary supporter of lobotomy as a treatment. His grandson is the narrator and challenges us to confront some of the strangest rationalizations for the surgical destruction of the brains of people who rarely gave consent. That most of this aggressive surgical intrusion happened to come into vogue after the Nuremberg 'Doctors' Trials, where medical doctors who used concentration camp inmates for medical experiments were sentenced to de ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not an easy read at all. However, the author explored the story of a man with epilepsy who had a lobotomy (done by the author's grandfather )as treatment. He became amnesic and this man was then followed for researchers for almost 60 years.
The neurosurgeon was obsessed with the brain and its function and his own wife was mentally ill.
As a science nerd and an individual who has had neurosurgery myself I was engrossed with the story and with how little is still known about the human brain
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Libri Labra Book ...: Patient H.M. 11 12 Oct 15, 2016 05:21PM  
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“Maybe the human brain is an object beyond the reach of metaphor, for the simple reason that it is the only object capable of creating metaphors to describe itself. There really is nothing else like it. The human brain creates the human mind, and then the human mind tries to underhand the human brain, however long it takes and whatever the cost.” 10 likes
“My grandfather, like most lobotomists, performed a disproportionate number of psychosurgeries on women. This discrepancy never received a satisfactory explanation, but it seems worth pointing out that the known clinical effects of lobotomy—including tractability, passivity, and docility—overlapped nicely with what many men of the time considered to be ideal feminine traits.” 0 likes
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