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

Overview

Genius on the Edge introduces the public to the man who revolutionized modern surgery at the same time it weaves a compelling biography with a fascinating tour of American medicine at the turn of the 19th century. Coming of age in the wake of the Civil War, William Stewart Halsted became a doctor in an era when surgery was a dangerous game of chance. By the time of his death in 1922, Halsted had transformed surgery and had pioneered techniques and procedures that are routine in today's operating rooms. But this ...

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

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Overview

Genius on the Edge introduces the public to the man who revolutionized modern surgery at the same time it weaves a compelling biography with a fascinating tour of American medicine at the turn of the 19th century. Coming of age in the wake of the Civil War, William Stewart Halsted became a doctor in an era when surgery was a dangerous game of chance. By the time of his death in 1922, Halsted had transformed surgery and had pioneered techniques and procedures that are routine in today's operating rooms. But this came at a high price-drug addiction and alienation from his friends and family.

His enormous professional accomplishments, eccentric personal behavior, and lifetime of drug addiction defy conventional wisdom. In the first comprehensive portrait of this complex and indisputably brilliant man, author Gerald Imber-a renowned plastic surgeon himself-takes readers to the upper echelons of society in New York City and Baltimore, blending tales of Gilded Age decadence with captivating accounts from the front lines of medical discovery. Combining the historical atmosphere of The Alienist with an unconventional hero, Genius on the Edge celebrates one of history's most daring doctors.

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Editorial Reviews

Abigail Zuger
Gerald Imber's new biography is the first retelling of Halsted's story in many decades and a particularly expert and thought-provoking narrative.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this nuanced, sympathetic tribute, surgeon and author Imber (Absolute Beauty) recounts the pioneering medical career of brilliant doctor William Stewart Halsted. Halsted was born in 1852, at a time when the mortality rate of surgical patients was nearly 50 percent, typically a result of unchecked bleeding or post-operative infection; a Civil War soldier shot in the abdomen or even suffering a non-mortal wound would likely die of gangrene. Halsted was at the forefront of those demanding sterile conditions in the operating room, and "inadvertently set in motion the greatest advance in the history of sterile technique" when he introduced rubber gloves for nurses. Travelling to Germany during his student days, Halsted also learned to control bleeding by clamping and tying blood vessels. Like many doctors of his time, Halsted became addicted to cocaine (later morphine) in the process of testing his patients' anesthetic; he also pioneered in medical research (operating on animals to learn more about mammal physiology), and continued to make important contributions (while hiding his drug problem) until his death at age 70. With this engaging (if spectacularly subtitled) biography, Imber brings into focus the amazing strides medicine has made over 150 years.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
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. He also had a strange, possibly sexless, marriage, but just what made him tick remains a mystery. Medical education in 19th-century America was haphazard at best, and surgery was often brutal and risky. After attending Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and interning at Bellevue, like other young men of means, Halsted completed his medical education in Europe. His career as a surgeon was off to a brilliant start in New York in the 1880s, but his experiments with cocaine as a local anesthetic led to his addiction to it and later to morphine. Fortunately, his friend William Welch offered him a new start at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and in 1886, Halsted left New York for Baltimore. Although his presence at the school was interrupted by months of absence every year due to his drug dependency, he made numerous innovations in surgical technique. However, it was his contributions to the training of surgeons and his development of scientific, safe and anatomically proper surgery that cemented his reputation. He set exceptionally high standards for his residents at Hopkins, and Imber profiles a few, including the distinguished Harvey Cushing. Many of Halsted's students eventually became professors and chiefs of surgery, and in turn their residents became heads of major surgical facilitiesacross the United States. In the author's view, anyone in America who undergoes a successful surgery owes a debt of gratitude to Halsted. Halsted remains out of focus, but the significance of Johns Hopkins in modernizing the education of doctors is clear.
From the Publisher
“Gerald Imber’s new biography is the first retelling of Halsted’s story in many decades and a particularly expert and thought-provoking narrative makes the intense strangeness of Halsted’s subsequent career a gripping story.”—Abigail Zuger, New York Times Science section

 “…Dr. Gerald Imber's unpredictable and unflappable biography, an intrigue-filled life story that's also a sweeping pop medical history, depicts an individual who was two different kinds of good - make that, great - doctor.”  —Baltimore Sun  

"With this engaging (if spectacularly subtitled) biography, Imber brings into focus the amazing strides medicine has made over 150 years."   —Publishers Weekly  

"Imber provides a few other colorful details about Halsted: He named his dachshunds "Nip" and "Tuck" and was such an indifferent college student that "there is no record of Halsted ever having borrowed a book from the Yale library." He did crack a book during his senior year: Gray's "Anatomy," which inspired him to pursue medicine."  —Washington Post  

“A gripping mixture of medical history and detailed biographical analysis...” —Huffington Post

“He provides a vivid sense of many “larger-than-life personalities,” including those of William Welch, William Osler, Howard Kelly, Harvey Cushing, and Walter Dandy. His powers of description are compelling, and his carefully chosen words seem to let the monumental events speak for themselves. The book is a must-read for residents. The residency of the 21st century is evolving from that of the 20th, but it will be a long time before Halsted's imprint is no longer palpable.”  —Anesthesiology

“Gerald Imber has captured in one grisly sweep the barbarism of both early surgery and the manure-trodden streets it grew from. Like Doctorow's RAGTIME, it's evocative in broad strokes….Not just for history buffs, Imber gives any reader a character for the ages. Riveting.” —Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781607146278
  • Publisher: Kaplan Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Pages: 412
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Gerald Imber is a well known plastic surgeon and authority on cosmetic surgery, and directs a private clinic in Manhattan. An early proponent of prevention and minimally invasive procedures, he has devised many popular anti-aging techniques, and is attending surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital and assistant clinical professor of surgery at Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.

Dr. Imber has published many scientific papers and is a regular lecturer at professional meetings. He is also the author of a number of “beauty books” and has written on many subjects for varied publications such as Departures, and The Wall Street Journal, and appears regularly on network television.

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Table of Contents

Prologue ix

1 Tumultuous Times 1

2 Setting the Stage 9

3 Physicians and Surgeons 21

4 Becoming a Surgeon 29

5 New York 37

6 Cocaine 47

7 The Visionary 59

8 The Very Best Men 75

9 Baltimore 85

10 The Hospital on the Hill 95

11 Finding the Way 101

12 William Osler 105

13 The Operating Room 111

14 The Radical Cure of Breast Cancer 117

15 Life in Baltimore 127

16 The Big Four 139

17 Hernia 145

18 Establishing the Routine 155

19 Country Squire 167

20 The First Great Medical School 183

21 Teaching without Teaching 189

22 Residents 193

23 Changes 205

24 Into the 20th Century 221

25 Harvey Cushing 229

26 All Quiet on the Home Front 247

27 After Cushing 257

28 New Horizons 267

29 Addiction 277

30 Vascular Surgery 283

31 Scientist 287

32 A New Paradigm 297

33 A New Era 307

34 The World Changes 321

35 "My Dear Miss Bessie" 331

36 The Final Illness 341

37 Afterward 345

Epilogue 353

Acknowledgments 357

References 359

Index 375

About the Author 389

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    The Professor: A Surgical Giant On Whose Shoulders We Stand

    This book is a remarkable tour de force by Gerald Imber MD about the father of modern surgery William Stewart Halsted. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of medicine. Dr. Imber uses Halsteds career as also a look into the beginnings of modern scientific medicine. Such notables are named as Sir William Osler, the father of modern diagnostic medicine, William Henry Welch the who established the first pathology department and discoverer of gas gangrene, and Howard Atwood Kelly, the father of modern gynecology. It spans the time from the mid 19 century when medicine was still based on the idea of laudable pus and bad air causing infections and surgery was the ugly step sister that usually resulted in the patient expiring to the time of modern science base medicine based on germ theory, experiment and antisepsis with the majority of surgical patients surviving. Other notables Harvey Cushing the father of modern neurosurgery and Louis Pasteur are mentioned and intimately involved in this intriguing story of one of the true giants in medical history. Halsted virtually invented the modern techniques of surgery and training of modern surgeons, indeed the big four invented modern medical education in the United States at John Hopkins University. Halsted did this while fighting the demon of addiction to the drugs he help develop in fight for pain free surgery. This is a must read and will definitely go on the recommended read list.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Dr. Imber contributes an excellent perspective in the history of medicine

    This work provides an extremely interesting and informative perspective on the individual growth, development, training, and professional and personal personas of one of the greatest clinicians and medical innovators, William Halsted. The story is couched within a well detailed descriptive framework of the tremendous scientific and institutional transformations occurring during Halsted's life that both allowed and propelled him to implement the advances clinical medicine attributed to him.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    a cutting edge novel

    If you want great insight into the history of American surgery and a nice overview of medicine in the US at the turn of the last century this is the book for you. As a surgeon, I was fascinated with both the professional and personal life of Dr.Halstead. Did you ever wonder where the association between Nip and Tuck came from? Would you operate on your mother in her kitchen? The writing is good not great. The historical events are fascinating. If you are a surgeon, this is required reading. For the rest of you it is an amazing look at American medical history.

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  • Posted March 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The biography of William Halsted MD

    It is unfathomable to imagine a time in medicine when there was no sterile technique; where surgeons operated in their street clothes; where patients were fully awake and the surgeons operated as quickly as they could so that the death of the patients due to trauma or blood loss would not be counted against them; when bare handed surgery was the norm. But before William Halsted MD applied strict sterile technique, slow meticulous anatomic dissection such was the world of medicine. Indeed much of what passes as accepted routine...from grand rounds, residency... in medical education originated at the time and at the behest of Halsted.
    Having read William Osler: a Life in Medicine by Michael Bliss, I knew much of the story behind Halsted's addictions and the crucible of Johns Hopkins at the turn of the 1800s to the 1900s. Even knowing his travails, Dr. Imber has focused on Halsted in great loving detail.

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