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
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
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.
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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.