Memory's Ghost: The Strange Tale of Mr. M. and the Nature of Memory

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In 1953, experimental brain surgery was performed on a young man named Henry M. It was a time when lobotomies were in fashion, and Henry's doctors believed that his epilepsy could be cured by a radical operation. Two holes were drilled into Henry's skull above his eyes and through a silver straw the hippocampus - a grayish-pink organ the size and shape of a fist - was sucked out from deep within Henry's brain. When Henry recovered, it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. He could talk and read and ...
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Overview

In 1953, experimental brain surgery was performed on a young man named Henry M. It was a time when lobotomies were in fashion, and Henry's doctors believed that his epilepsy could be cured by a radical operation. Two holes were drilled into Henry's skull above his eyes and through a silver straw the hippocampus - a grayish-pink organ the size and shape of a fist - was sucked out from deep within Henry's brain. When Henry recovered, it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. He could talk and read and write. But when asked where he was, or who the people were at his bedside, he did not know. Nurses could speak to him and return a moment later, only to find he had no memory of them. For decades Henry's guardians at M.I.T.'s clinical research center have shielded him, restricting access to academic researchers. Now, in Memory's Ghost, Philip J. Hilts, one of a relatively small number of people who have spent extended time with Henry, tells Henry's remarkable story. But Henry's story is only part of Memory's Ghost. Memory's Ghost examines as well how great thinkers have understood memory, from Plato and St. Augustine to Proust and William James. Memory's Ghost explains how memory works and how it doesn't work, how mnemonic devices work, where memory functions are physically located in brain regions, and how the hippocampus - the part of the brain that Henry M. lost - organizes information into memory. Part poetic reflection and philosophical meditation, part popular science and investigative journalism, Memory's Ghost is an intriguing exploration of the mysteries of the mind and of a man whose memory was stolen from him.

A probing look at the mechanics of memory--illuminated by the fascinating and bizarre case study of Henry M., who for more than 40 years has been a prisoner of the immediate present--Memory's Ghost takes readers on an unprecedented quest for understanding the mysterious power of memory.

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Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
ealth and science reporter Hilts has always been fascinated by memory, both in terms of its biological workings and its role in the formulation of our psyches, art, and culture. He touches on each of these spheres in this profoundly moving portrait of Mr. M., a man who, literally, had his memory removed. Mr. M.'s epilepsy manifested itself abruptly and cruelly on his sixteenth birthday, severely restricting his life. A dozen years later, in 1953, he underwent radical brain surgery. Dr. William Scoville sucked out a large section of Mr. M.'s brain, a crude procedure that had little initial effect on the epilepsy, but succeeded in completely eradicating Mr. M.'s memory. Mr. M. became a man frozen in the present and a scientific curiosity. As Hilts chronicles Mr. M.'s strange life, he relates the history of the study of memory, that element of mind that, more than any other, defines us. The poignancy of his percipient inquiry is deepened by Hilts' descriptions of his own tragedy, the slow death of his wife. Hilts' sensitive and intelligent inquiry will have special appeal to fans of Oliver Sacks.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684803562
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 7/4/1995
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 0.97 (d)

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