Last Resort: Psychosurgery and the Limits of Medicine

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$103.49
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $14.98
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 86%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (14) from $14.98   
  • New (6) from $32.98   
  • Used (8) from $14.98   

Overview

During the 1940s and 1950s, tens of thousands of Americans underwent some form of psychosurgery; that is, their brains were operated upon for the putative purpose of treating mental illness. From today's perspective, such medical practices appear foolhardy at best, perhaps even barbaric; most commentators thus have seen in the story of lobotomy an important warning about the kinds of hazards that society will face whenever incompetent or malicious physicians are allowed to overstep the boundaries of valid medical science. Last Resort challenges the previously accepted psychosurgery story and raises new questions about what we should consider to be its important lessons. Through an extensive study of patient records, professional correspondence, and the day's medical literature, Jack D. Pressman establishes that lobotomy occurred, not at the periphery of medical practice, but at its center - a finding that engenders a different set of historical problems. To account for why so many reasonable and trusted physicians might have supported psychosurgery's validity, the book reconstructs the particular challenges facing the psychiatrists of the time and the kinds of disciplinary tools that were available to them. The new lesson that emerges from the psychosurgery story, then, is that our usual models of understanding how medicine progresses are deeply flawed. The success of a research venture in medicine is never a safe bet, and the evaluation of therapeutic success is not an absolute measure, being relative to time and place. The standard of what constitutes valid medical science is itself never fixed, but evolving.

The book contains black-and-white illustrations.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Robert P. Hudson, BA, MA, MD (University of Kansas School of Medicine)
Description: Psychosurgery was a major innovation in America during the 1940s and 1950s, just as the new specialty of psychiatry was seeking identity and acceptance. Despite its flimsy scientific basis, crude techniques, and many failures, tens of thousand of persons underwent frontal lobotomies, often as office procedures.
Purpose: Historical assessments of the lobotomy story usually dismiss it as a medical catastrophe and a warning of the consequences of science running amuck. The author demonstrates that this depiction is not only simplistic, but wrong-headed. He shows that lobotomy was based on a reasonable application of contemporary science, that it was done in the psychiatric mainstream rather than by a few peripheral zealots, and that many results were perceived as beneficial, particularly in overcrowded state hospitals where lobotomy rendered difficult patients manageable, even at the price of severely altered personalities.
Audience: The history of therapeutics is generally underdeveloped at present, despite its critical importance to the current scene, where the naive acceptance of everything called alternative medicine threatens to return medicine to the chaos of the nineteenth century. Practical matters alone should recommend this book to healers of all stripes at any stage of their careers, to social planners, historians of the life sciences, and the immense population most affected by the vagaries of medical practice, the consumer.
Features: The story of the rise and fall of lobotomy demanded an explication of the forces shaping psychiatry as we know it today. This story is integrated seamlessly and economically into the overriding account of a fledgling specialty seizing on the unscientific destruction of normal brain tissue in quest of scientific legitimacy.
Assessment: Many studies document America's scientific illiteracy. Most of us fail to understand the methods, capabilities, and limitations of science. As a nation we need more books like this one. Reading the remarkable epilogue, "Last Resort," alone would be a good place for anyone to begin.
New England Journal of Medicine
Last Resort is medical history at its best....This book is much more than an important contribution to medical history (as if that were not enough). Every student and practitioner in psychiatry, psychology, and social work -- in short, any student who wants to understand contemporary psychiatry and medicine -- will find Last Resort extremely rewarding. It should become required reading for all psychiatric house officers.
Robert P. Hudson
Psychosurgery was a major innovation in America during the 1940s and 1950s, just as the new specialty of psychiatry was seeking identity and acceptance. Despite its flimsy scientific basis, crude techniques, and many failures, tens of thousand of persons underwent frontal lobotomies, often as office procedures. Historical assessments of the lobotomy story usually dismiss it as a medical catastrophe and a warning of the consequences of science running amuck. The author demonstrates that this depiction is not only simplistic, but wrong-headed. He shows that lobotomy was based on a reasonable application of contemporary science, that it was done in the psychiatric mainstream rather than by a few peripheral zealots, and that many results were perceived as beneficial, particularly in overcrowded state hospitals where lobotomy rendered difficult patients manageable, even at the price of severely altered personalities. The history of therapeutics is generally underdeveloped at present, despite its critical importance to the current scene, where the naive acceptance of everything called alternative medicine threatens to return medicine to the chaos of the nineteenth century. Practical matters alone should recommend this book to healers of all stripes at any stage of their careers, to social planners, historians of the life sciences, and the immense population most affected by the vagaries of medical practice, the consumer. The story of the rise and fall of lobotomy demanded an explication of the forces shaping psychiatry as we know it today. This story is integrated seamlessly and economically into the overriding account of a fledgling specialty seizing on the unscientific destruction ofnormal brain tissue in quest of scientific legitimacy. Many studies document America's scientific illiteracy. Most of us fail to understand the methods, capabilities, and limitations of science. As a nation we need more books like this one. Reading the remarkable epilogue, ""Last Resort,"" alone would be a good place for anyone to begin.

4 Stars! from Doody
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Acknowledgments
Jack D. Pressman: An Appreciation
Introduction: A Stab in the Dark 1
1 Psychiatry's Renaissance: The Problem of Mental Disorder, 1921-1935 18
2 Sufficient Promise: John F. Fulton and the Origins of Lobotomy 47
3 Certain Benefit: Initial Impressions of the Operation 102
4 Active Treatment: Somatic Therapy and State Hospital Reform 147
5 Human Salvage: Why Psychosurgery Worked in 1949 (and Not Now) 194
6 Localizing Decisions: Psychosurgery and the Art of Medicine 236
7 The Politics of Precision: The Quest for a Better Lobotomy 318
8 Medicine Controlled: Psychiatry's Evolution as a Science and a Profession 362
Epilogue: The New Synthesis 401
Statistical Portrait of Psychosurgery at McLean Hospital, 1938-1954 443
Codes of Patients and Physicians Cited in Chapters 3 and 6 448
Notes 453
Collections Cited 533
Annual Reports Examined 535
Index 537
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    Exceptional study in medical history

    This is a deeply researched and well written history of the lobotomy as medical practice in the 1950's. A large book, but well worth reading if one is interested in the true history of psychosurgery over the more common depiction of the procedure as an immoral practice by those on the medical fringe.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)