The Immortalists

The Immortalists

by David M. Friedman

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His historic career as an aviator made Charles Lindbergh one of the most famous men of the twentieth century, the subject of best-selling biographies and a hit movie, as well as the inspiration for a dance step—the Lindy Hop—that he himself was too shy to try. But for all the attention lavished on Lindbergh, one story has remained untold until now: his

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His historic career as an aviator made Charles Lindbergh one of the most famous men of the twentieth century, the subject of best-selling biographies and a hit movie, as well as the inspiration for a dance step—the Lindy Hop—that he himself was too shy to try. But for all the attention lavished on Lindbergh, one story has remained untold until now: his macabre scientific collaboration with Dr. Alexis Carrel. This oddest of couples—one a brilliant Nobel Prize-winning surgeon turned social engineer, the other a failed dirt farmer turned hero of the skies—joined forces in 1930 driven by a shared and secret dream: to conquer death and attain immortality.

Part Frankenstein, part The Professor and the Madman, and all true, The Immortalists is the remarkable story of how two men of prodigious achievement and equally large character flaws challenged nature's oldest rule, with consequences—personal, professional, and political—that neither man anticipated.

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Editorial Reviews

Kyla Dunn
In The Immortalists, the journalist David M. Friedman rescues this remarkable tale from the footnotes of history, arguing that Carrel and Lindbergh were secretly chasing after eternal life—but only for the right sort of people.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

World-famous after his pioneering 1927 nonstop transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh, says Friedman, thought he was a god, and after a 1928 otherworldly experience in the Utah desert, he committed himself to exploring the science of eternal life. His sister-in-law's damaged heart valve led Lindbergh to seek out Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel, whose vascular-suturing technique made open-heart surgery and other advances possible. The pair embarked on an immortality project at New York's Rockefeller Institute. Utilizing Carrel's expertise with tissue culture and Lindbergh's mechanical engineering genius, they kept extracted organs alive and functioning for weeks at a time. As Friedman (A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis) demonstrates, these biological experiments were integral to the pair's obsession with eugenics, their belief that the white race was endangered by lesser organisms and to Lindbergh's later enthusiasm for the Nazis. Friedman, who has written for GQand Esquire, makes complex science accessible and serves as an absorbing cautionary tale on how two heroic reputations were marred by fascism and anti-Semitism. Photos. (Aug. 21)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Friedman (A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis) brings into detailed focus for the first time the relationship between famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and the Noble Prize-winning French surgeon Alexis Carrel. Driven by a desire to cure his ailing sister-in-law, Elizabeth Morrow, Lindbergh contacted Carrel in 1930 for the purpose of developing an artificial heart. What follows is the story of a world-changing friendship and scientific endeavor. Unrevealed to the public until now is that the two men had a more ambitious plan-to achieve immortality. Here Friedman elaborates on an absorbing aspect of their relationship-how belief in scientific progress and the quest for immortality fed their view for eugenics, all of which would collide into the harsh reality of Nazism. Friedman offers an insightful look into Lindbergh's mind by providing motivations for his admiration of the Nazis, and then, in contrast, his personal reckoning with the war, which resulted in his disillusionment with scientific progress and a redefinition of the meaning of immortality. Recommended for the science and history collections of academic and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07.]
—Scott Vieira

Kirkus Reviews
The wonderfully witty Friedman (A Mind of its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, 2001) moves on to a more serious subject: the heralded aviator's partnership with a Nobel Prize-winning surgeon on innovations that laid the groundwork for organ transplants, cryosurgery and the artificial heart. They met in 1930, three years after his solo transatlantic flight made Charles Lindbergh a household name, and 18 after Dr. Alexis Carrel won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in cutting and reconnecting blood vessels. Lindbergh had radical ideas about repairing heart valves and installing pumps to replace ailing hearts that were, Dr. Carrel informed him, unfeasible with contemporary technologies. But Carrel invited Lindbergh to observe and then join his experiments in vascular surgery and tissue culture at the Rockefeller Institute. Friedman delineates the subsequent collaboration of this unlikely pair in a fast-paced, energetic text that reads like a novel. Science was Lindbergh's true love, which was fostered by his parents. Carrel was a quirky Frenchman who dabbled in the paranormal, gave advice on marriage in Reader's Digest and penned a bestseller on the destiny of man. His laboratory became a refuge for the reluctant celebrity, particularly after the much publicized kidnapping of Lindbergh's infant son in 1932. Working under Carrel's supervision, the aviator perfected a perfusion system to preserve organs outside the body. Both men believed that science would allow humanity to "create a race of giants who could leap 200 yards into the air and live forever." They also believed that only the best and brightest should be allowed to reproduce, a view that prompted their disastrous forayinto the realm of politics and social planning. Carrel later atoned for this hubris by going to the aid of Vichy France; Lindbergh recanted his belief in eugenics and embraced environmentalism. A captivating study of medical innovation, the fallibility of science and two adventurous minds.
New York Times
“Difficult to put down...this is the book to read.”

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The Immortalists
Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever

Chapter One

I Will Show You What I'm Doing Here

Charles Lindbergh's familiarity with prying gazes began on May 21, 1927, the day he became the most famous man in the world. That status was conferred on the unsuspecting twenty-five-year-old, literally overnight, when he was the first aviator to fly without stopping from New York to Paris, a feat that many people—even many aviators—had thought impossible. Making Lindbergh's triumph all the more newsworthy was that he flew without a copilot, a radio, or even a front window for thirty-three and a half hours in a single-engine airplane made from wood, canvas, and piano wire. The New York Times showed its awe by devoting its first five pages to the dimple-chinned American's landing at Le Bourget, the dusty airfield where 100,000 Frenchmen—nearly all of them chanting "Lan-Bairgh! Lan-Bairgh!"—were so eager to stare at the spent pilot that they almost trampled him to death after he climbed out of his cockpit. Maintenance crews swept up a ton of personal items lost or abandoned in that lovefest, including a sable coat and six sets of false teeth.

In the week that followed, Lindbergh, in new clothes made by a Paris tailor, was seen by the president and premier of France, the French chamber of deputies, and a million more Frenchmen who lined a parade route along the Champs-Élysées. After leaving France he was presented to the king of Belgium, the king of England (who asked, "How did you pee?"), and the prince of Wales (the future duke of Windsor), whom Lindberghquickly replaced as the most photographed person on earth. Returning home, he was gawked at by 300,000 Americans at the Washington Monument, where President Coolidge pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on his chest. Four million New Yorkers showered him with cheers and paper scraps, as 10,000 schoolchildren sang "Hail the Conquering Hero Comes," in the largest ticker-tape parade the world had ever seen. Taking a three-month "victory lap," Lindbergh flew his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to every state in the union; rode in 1,300 miles of motorcades; gave 147 speeches; and was seen, in the flesh, by 30 million people—one out of every four Americans then living. Still, none of this prepared Lindbergh for the way he was stared at on November 28, 1930, the day the world's most famous man was introduced to the person some considered the world's smartest.

Ironically, that day began with steps aimed at preventing Lindbergh from being stared at. Before entering his black Franklin sedan outside his rented home in Princeton, New Jersey, Lindbergh slipped a pair of lensless eyeglasses over his famously blue eyes and a fedora hat over his equally famous blond hair. Much to his pleasure, he'd found this simple disguise was usually enough to afford him some privacy in public. Privacy was always important to Lindbergh, but it was crucial this morning because he wanted to think quietly in his car as he made the two-hour drive into New York, without interruptions from starstruck toll takers or fellow motorists. What Lindbergh wanted to think about was the list of questions he planned to ask the man he was driving to meet, a man whose name he'd only recently heard for the first time.

He heard it from Dr. Paluel Flagg, the anesthetist who attended Lindbergh's wife, the former Anne Morrow, when she gave birth to the Lindberghs' first child, Charles Jr., on June 22, 1930. Lindbergh had met his wife in December 1927 when he flew to Mexico City, an event that caused nearly as much pandemonium as his landing in Paris. Anne, then an introverted twenty-one-year-old college student, was worried at first that her Christmas holiday with her family at the U.S. embassy—her father, Dwight, was the American ambassador—would be spoiled by the presence of someone she called "a sort of baseball player."

But that anxiety vanished when the tall, handsome aviator took the ambassador's middle daughter on her first airplane flight, a thrill that Anne, a short brunette unsure of her own attractiveness, described in her diary in near-orgasmic terms. Lindbergh "moved so very little" in the cockpit, "yet you felt the harmony of it," she wrote. "It was a complete and intense experience." The pilot and his sated passenger were married on May 27, 1929, in a secret ceremony at Next Day Hill, the Morrow family mansion set on a verdant fifty-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River in Englewood, New Jersey. Most of the two dozen guests thought they'd been invited to play bridge.

When Anne went into labor in the same mansion the next summer, her husband, waiting in the next room, struck up a conversation with Dr. Flagg. The topic was Anne's older sister Elisabeth, whose health had deteriorated dramatically after a bout of rheumatic fever damaged her heart's mitral valve, the valve that regulates the flow of blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber.

Lindbergh, who knew a fair bit about valves in machines, was puzzled that a mere valve in the heart—the body's engine, as he saw it—could cause so much trouble in an otherwise vibrant woman in her mid-twenties. He was similarly vexed to learn that not one of the doctors consulted by Elisabeth's family, several of whom Lindbergh had questioned personally, had any ideas on how to proceed. Lindbergh had several: remove and replace the broken valve, as he would do in an airplane engine; replace the entire heart with a mechanical pump—an "artificial heart," he called it—just as Lindbergh would replace a failed airplane motor; or insert a temporary blood pump, remove the heart, fix it, then put it back.

Lindbergh spoke to Flagg about Elisabeth Morrow's situation because he noticed that the anesthetist had brought with him a machine he invented to give artificial respiration to newborns, in case a breathing emergency arose with the Lindberghs' baby. Fascinated by all things mechanical, Lindbergh asked for permission to examine the device, which was made of an oxygen tank, a pressure regulator, and several feet of rubber tubing.

The Immortalists
Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever
. Copyright © by David Friedman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

David M. Friedman has written for Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and was a reporter for New York Newsday and the Philadelphia Daily News. His first book, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, was published in more than a dozen countries. He lives in New York.

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