The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illnessby Jack El-Hai
The Lobotomist explores one of the darkest chapters of American medicine: the desperate attempt to treat the hundreds of thousands of psychiatric patients in need of help during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Into this crisis stepped Walter Freeman, M.D., who saw a solution in lobotomy, a brain operation intended to reduce the severity of psychotic symptoms. Drawing on Freeman’s documents and interviews with Freeman's family, Jack El-Hai takes a penetrating look at the life and work of this complex scientific genius.
The Lobotomist explores one of the darkest chapters of American medicine: the desperate attempt to treat the hundreds of thousands of psychiatric patients in need of help during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Into this crisis stepped Walter Freeman, M.D., who saw a solution in lobotomy, a brain operation intended to reduce the severity of psychotic symptoms. Although many patients did not benefit from the thousands of lobotomies Freeman performed, others believed their lobotomies changed them for the better. Drawing on a rich collection of documents Freeman left behind and interviews with Freeman's family, Jack El-Hai takes a penetrating look into the life of this complex scientific genius and traces the physician's fascinating life and work.
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What People are Saying About This
Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
"The moment Walter Freeman's gaze lands on an ice pick in his kitchen drawer, you know you're in for a rollicking ride. This is the biography not just of Walter Freeman but of the lobotomy, a procedure as bizarre and tragic and compelling as Freeman himself. Impressively researched and even-handed, El-Hai's book unravels the man inside the monster. A fascinating read."
Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
"Vividly written and meticlously reseached, The Lobotomist is a thoughtful and absorbing biography. With skill and grace, Jack El-Hai lays bare the life and obsessions of one of the most controversial figures in American medical history. A terrific read!"
Dave Isay, award-winning NPR Producer and MacArthur Fellow
"Notorious barely begins to describe the lobotomy, one of the most controversial medical procedures ever known. Jack El-Hai makes its rise understandable at last by bringing to life the complicated, all-too-human doctor who built his career on promoting the lobotomy. This is a lucid and thoughtful account of a remarkable chapter in the history of medicine."
T. J. Stiles, author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War
"Jack El-Hai has written an absorbing, unsettling and cautionary story of the man who sold the lowly ice pick as the surgical solution to the mental illness of tens of thousands of people…. The author, a respected science journalist, started his research assuming that Freeman was akin to Josef Mengele. He ends this book with a nuanced, haunted view of his subject… With The Lobotomist, El-Hai gives his readers a first-class biography and, without saying so, a tutorial in the sober need for professional humility." Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A moving portrait of failed greatness… El-Hai’s book succeeds as both an empathetic, nuanced portrait of one of America’s most complex public figures and as a record of the cultural shifts that have occurred in the treatment of mental illness over the last century." Publishers Weekly
"Who would predict that a book about a brutal, discredited brain operation could be such fun? But The Lobotomist IS fun — for those of us whose idea of fun is having our most cherished beliefs turned on their heads. Jack El-Hai has done a masterful job of bringing to life a brilliant, slightly cruel, wholly original scientist whose contribution to the treatment of mental illness has too long been misunderstood." Robin Marantz Henig, author of Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution
Meet the Author
JACK EL-HAI is the President of the American Society of Journalists and a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post Magazine, American Heritage, and other publications. He is a past winner of the Minnesota Book Award and the June Roth Memorial Award for Medical Journalism.
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