The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart

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Overview

The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs.

In this lyrical history, a critically acclaimed novelist and a leading cardiologist—who happen to be brothers— draw upon...

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The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart

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Overview

The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs.

In this lyrical history, a critically acclaimed novelist and a leading cardiologist—who happen to be brothers— draw upon history, science, religion, popular culture, and literature to illuminate all of the heart’s physical and figurative chambers. Divided into six sections, The Sublime Engine traces the heart’s sway over the human imagination from the time of the Egyptians and ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, up to the modern era and beyond. More than just a work of scientific or cultural history, it is a biography of the single most important symbol of our humanity. Erudite, witty, and unexpected, The Sublime Engine makes the heart leap off the page.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The brothers Amidon refer to their book as a "biography of this remarkable machine" and it’s a fitting description for such a tidy volume. Chapters begin with entertaining and illustrative historical tales, before reviewing the roles that people have assigned to the heart, as a metaphor for what is "most essential in a human being" and the place "in which Jesus Christ dwelled" (from 399 BCE, an era that also looked heavenward to explain the myocardial infarction). The authors liberally sprinkle their effort with charm and literary allusions, to The Scarlet Letter, Measure for Measure, (where love is "a sort of cardiac shock") and other texts. In fact, The Sublime Engine is that rare book: so entertaining that its ability to educate seems effortless. The authors turn the heart into a beloved friend for whom we should care desperately; readers may in fact be more inspired to "start jogging and eat fewer cheeseburgers" by Amidon (author of Human Capital) and Amidon (a practicing cardiologist) than by their own GP, which makes a final tale of two very different men who suffer heart attacks, and the disparity of care that they receive, even more, yes, heartbreaking. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews

Novelist Stephen Amidon (Security, 2009,etc.) and his brother, cardiologist Thomas Amidon, examine the "different ways that we have thought about the heart ever since it first took root in the Western imagination."

The authors begin with an account of the Egyptian practice of mummifying the bodies of their elite. All internal organs were removed and disposed of, with the exception of the heart, believed to be the repository of the soul. As part of their religious rituals, physician-priests preserved the heart separately but also studied its physical function in the body. According to a papyrus dated approximately 1500 BCE, they developed a rudimentary notion of the circulatory system. Greek physicians, who were banned from dissecting corpses, believed the heart to be the source of bodily heat because of its role in sustaining life but debated whether the capacity for thought and emotion was located in the heart or the brain. Looking at the Middle Ages, the authors assert that "[t]heology trumped biology," with the body seen as the seat of sin. During the Renaissance, there was a rebirth of science and art, and Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy. Although he adopted mistaken Greek views of the heart's function, he made realistic drawings of coronary arteries. In the 16th century, William Harvey explained the action of the circulatory system and the heart's role as a pump—a discovery the Amidons rank with those of Newton and Galileo—while his contemporary Shakespeare explored its vast metaphorical content. The authors review the great advances in the treatment of heart disease over the past century and look optimistically to the future.

An enjoyable celebration of the collaboration of visionaries.

From the Publisher
The Sublime Engine is that rare book; so entertaining that its ability to educate seems effortless.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605295848
  • Publisher: Rodale Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/18/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Amidon is the author of six novels, including The New City and Human Capital. His fiction has been published in 15 countries, and he is a regular contributor of essays and criticism to newspapers and magazines in the United States and United Kingdom.

Thomas Amidon , MD, has been cardiology section chief at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, WA, and a clinical instructor at Washington University. He is the author of dozens of articles and coauthor of the cardiology chapter in a topselling medical textbook.

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