Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery

5.0 1
by Rob Dunn

See All Formats & Editions

The secret history of our most vital organ—the human heart

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first "explorers" who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts' chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart


The secret history of our most vital organ—the human heart

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first "explorers" who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts' chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart transplants and the latest medical efforts to prolong our hearts' lives, almost defying nature in the process.

Thought of as the seat of our soul, then as a mysteriously animated object, the heart is still more a mystery than it is understood. Why do most animals only get one billion beats? (And how did modern humans get to over two billion-effectively letting us live out two lives?) Why are sufferers of gingivitis more likely to have heart attacks? Why do we often undergo expensive procedures when cheaper ones are just as effective? What do Da Vinci, Mary Shelley, and contemporary Egyptian archaeologists have in common? And what does it really feel like to touch your own heart, or to have someone else's beating inside your chest?

Rob Dunn's fascinating history of our hearts brings us deep inside the science, history, and stories of the four chambers we depend on most.

Editorial Reviews

The man spotlighted in the title is Werner Forssmann (1904-1979), a German physician who in 1929 inserted a urethral catheter his arm and fearlessly guided it up to the right atrium of the heart. The first human cardiac catheterization eventually won him a Nobel Prize, but not before this youthful act of courage severely damaged his career. Forssmann is only one of the fascinating, sometimes equally eccentric heart doctors and researchers featured in this new book by biologist Rob Dunn (The Wild Life of Our Bodies; Every Living Thing). With stories about medicine from ancient Greek and Egyptian times to the near present, this history tells the tale of an organ that keeps the beat billions of time in our lifetime.

Publishers Weekly
In this entertaining history of cardiac research and treatment, Dunn (The Wild Life of Our Bodies), a science writer and North Carolina State University associate professor, explores the heart’s strengths and weaknesses through profiles of the notable scientists, artists, researchers, inventors, and doctors who wrestled with its mysteries. The book opens with Daniel Williams, a Chicago doctor who performed the first cardiac surgery when he operated on a bar-brawl victim in 1893. From there he offers an expansive survey of “ambitious individuals who believed they could conquer our most tempestuous organ in new ways, and of patients... who lived or did not as a consequence.” He includes the ancient Greek physician Galen, “the most important medical scientist in history,” whose care of battered Roman gladiators and theories on blood circulation guided doctors for centuries; Leonardo da Vinci, whose insights on circulation and heart-valve function were ahead of their time; and the adventurous Werner Forssmann, a Pulitzer Prize–winning doctor who touched his own heart and revealed its inner workings by injecting dye into one of his veins. Dunn also covers advances such as bypass surgery, angioplasty, and heart-related pharmaceuticals in this eloquent appraisal of the feats that have given humans “a billion and half heartbeats with which to do as we please.” (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"These true stories about the heart pulsate with information and intrigue."—Tony Miksanek, Booklist (starred review)

"This delightful book is a page-turner, whose pulse never slows. In Dunn's hands, the evolution and history of the human heart is as engrossing, surprising, and vital as the heart itself."—Dan Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and author of The Story of the Human Body

"Dunn's books are always lively, informative, and full of fascinations, but The Man Who Touched His Own Heart is especially so, because he goes straight to the little-known history, medicine, and heart of our most symbolic organ."—Diane Ackerman, author of The Human Age

"A perfect mix of science, history and biology, The Man Who Touched His Own Heart is a delightful page-turner that reminds us of all that we have learned by standing on the shoulders of giants. Dunn recognizes the importance of historical and comparative perspectives — historical in terms of our intellectual ancestors, and more broadly in terms of our evolutionary history."—Charles Nunn, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Global Health at Duke University and author of The Evolution of Sleep

"These true stories about the heart pulsate with information and intrigue. Meshing medical history, biography, physiology, and evolutionary science, biologist Dunn scrutinizes a living pump that is simultaneously strong and vulnerable."—Tony Miksanek, Booklist

"We've all got to have heart, and Rob Dunn's wonderful book will help us have a better one. Or at the very least, it will help us be more informed about the heart we have, with its peculiar history and its fragile yet sturdy operation. Over the course of two billion beats, hearts break and are mended, and Dunn is there to chronicle their stories. In a gripping style, he shows us how our hearts are linked to those of ancient Egyptians, chimpanzees and lungfish, and how these linkages help us solve the modern heart's mysteries."—Marlene Zuk, Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota and author of Paleofantasy

"The Man Who Touched His Own Heart is a captivating journey through the history of the human heart. Author Rob Dunn weaves a fascinating tale of the science and humanism that underlie how mankind has worked to understand and control our most vital organ."—Aaron Baggish, Associate Director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center

"Dunn reminds us that the heart remains a fascinating, far-from-understood organ with an incredible biologic and cultural history.... A clear, engaging account of the heart's long and gruesome history.... Dunn is an impressive storyteller."—Bret Stetka, Slate

"An encounter with Rob Dunn can change the way you look at the world. Dunn is a modern day explorer who fearlessly and humbly ventures into the unknown. In his latest book, The Man Who Touched His Own Heart, Dunn brings his scientific curiosity, humanity, and uncanny eye for a good story to what many have called "the seat of our souls." In Dunn's telling, the human heart is an entrée to understand our basic biology, our connections to other animals on our planet and, even, one of the greatest scientific frontiers."—Neil H. Shubin, Senior Advisor to the President and Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Anatomy at the University of Chicago

"Fascinating.... [An] enticing weave of biography, social history and heart-related scientific drama.... Dunn's book is a great contribution to our understanding of the lifelong work of our beating hearts."—Alden Mudge, BookPage

"In this story of one of the body parts I worry about most, Rob Dunn brings the skills of a great writer and the knowledge of a fine evolutionary biologist together in the form of a gripping drama that gallops across thousands of years and from graveyard to surgical theatre to modern doctor's office. In the process Dunn sheds light not just on our own hearts but also those of all of the other animals with which we share Earth."—Paul R. Ehrlich, co-author of The Population Bomb and Hope on Earth

"A suspense-filled account of error and discovery, peopled with creative and obsessive scientists, daring and compassionate doctors, inventors, improvisers and experts in odd things, including fungus, pollution and mummies.... Dunn combines his knowledge of scientific method with his impressive narrative powers to reveal the personal and scientific drama behind our understanding of the heart.... Dunn's great strength is his breadth of vision.... By the end of this expansive book, Dunn's readers will find in their hearts a deep sense of connectedness to the plants and animals of our magnificent planet, and they'll owe Dunn a heartfelt thanks for leaving us so enriched."—Elizabeth Dreesen, The News & Observer

"Dunn paints a detailed picture of the myriad ways our hearts can break and the men and women brave enough to try putting them back together."—Brenda Poppy, Discover

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart has "page-turning detail that at times reads more like a novel than nonfiction."—Leslie Barker, Dallas Morning News

A "fascinating book on the mysteries of the human heart.... Rob Dunn's The Man Who Touched His Own Heart shows that the organ's complexities extend beyond the science."—Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal

"The writing in this book is clear and understandable.... An extensive collection of medical anecdotes and fascinating history.... I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the heart, in medical history, or in dramatic and improbable stories from the field of medicine."—Yevgeniya Nusinovich, Science

"From the tale of the African American doctor in a poor hospital who first dared pierce a beating heart with a surgical needle, Rob Dunn's stirring chronicle of the triumphs and tragedies that have informed our fragile understanding of the heart beats with the energy and emotion worthy of his subject."—Jamie Shreeve, Science Editor at National Geographic

"With the engaging prose that has become his trademark, Dunn plumbs the depths of the heart, through the eyes of the ancients, early researchers, and contemporary scientists."—Bob Grant, The Scientist

An "entertaining history of cardiac research and treatment."—Publishers Weekly

"A lively, sometimes humorous, and very helpful book."—Terri Schlichenmeyer, Naples Daily News

"The account is brisk and accessible...knowledge hoarders will relish Dunn's vivid historical scenes and explanations of cutting-edge research, not to mention the lifeblood pumping through them: the author's enthusiasm."—Brian Howe, The Independent Weekly

Kirkus Reviews
The heart was a black box up until a century ago, writes Dunn (Ecology and Evolution/North Carolina State Univ.; The Wild Life on Our Bodies, 2011, etc.). His well-researched text chronicles how the box was opened.The author opens with an account of how, even with today's impressive technology and medicine, his mother nearly died from too high a dosage of digitalis, a drug used to slow a rapid heartbeat. The author then recounts an incident in 1893 in which an African-American doctor in Chicago saved the life of a victim of a stab wound to the heart by cutting into the wound and sewing a tear in the pericardium. Then it's on to ancient history, with nods to da Vinci, Harvey and some others as exceptions to the view of the heart as sacrosanct and inviolable. The modern era began with the derring-do of the titular doctor, Werner Forssmann, who in 1929 inserted a catheter into an arm vein, threaded it to the heart and had it X-rayed, performing the first angiogram. In the 1930s, there were significant improvements in angiography, and succeeding decades saw the advent of heart-lung machines, new diets, drugs and devices (pacemakers, stents), and heart transplants. Dunn profiles the principals, with particular opprobrium for Christiaan Barnard, the South African surgeon ruthless in his zeal to be first to perform a human-to-human heart transplant. As for treatments today, Dunn cites studies showing that patients fare better with medication and diet to treat narrowed arteries, as compared with stents, but the latter are a huge moneymaker for hospitals. Finally, speaking as an evolutionary biologist, the author urges scientists to study the heart in evolution, pointing to striking findings that humans are alone among primates in our suffering from atherosclerosis. It's complicated, he writes, but we might reap huge benefits in prevention rather than just focusing on repairs. Credit Dunn with a valuable text that offers something for everyone—patients, practitioners, medical students, historians and policymakers.
Library Journal
Violating every reasonable rule of research, in 1929 Werner Forssmann inserted a urethral catheter into his arm and guided it to the right atrium of his heart, injecting dye for an X-ray. In the process, he stunted his career but also ultimately won a Nobel Prize. Dunn (ecology and evolution, North Carolina State Univ.; The Wild Life of Our Bodies) relates Forssmann's story along with many others often as unusual as he looks at the history of science's relationship with the human heart. Covering from Greek physician Galen in the second century CE to the leading edge of research today, the author focuses on individuals who built upon one another's work to expand our knowledge of anatomy, physiology, disease, diagnosis, and the many forms of treatment and prevention now in place. He also describes how the human heart and its maladies fit in the evolutionary tree, and the importance of interactions with the environment. VERDICT By illuminating the contributions of fascinating people who played vital but not always well-known roles in our understanding of the human heart, Dunn offers an unusual and enjoyable survey and update.—Richard Maxwell, Porter Adventist Hosp. Lib., Denver

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart

True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery

By Rob R. Dunn

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2015 Rob R. Dunn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-22579-3


The Bar Fight That Precipitated the Dawn of Heart Surgery

Any surgeon who would attempt an operation of the heart should lose the respect of his colleagues.

—T. H. Billroth, German surgeon

It was July of 1893, and the city of Chicago was melting. It was the summer of the World's Fair, when inventions from around the world began to transform America. By fall, the first hamburger would arrive in Chicago, as would the first machinery for making chocolate commercially and the first tinny version of Alexander Graham Bell's phone. It was also the summer in which Daniel Hale Williams (1856–1931), a young doctor on the rough side of town, would make the biggest decision of his life.

Williams was born of African American–Scots–Irish–Shawnee parents, but he was viewed by the society in which he lived, the society of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, as African American. Williams's father died when he was young, leaving his mother to care for him alone. She was sufficiently overwhelmed that she sent Daniel to be an apprentice to a shoemaker in Baltimore when he was just eleven. That might have been the end of the story, except that young Williams decided to go to Wisconsin, where he began working in a barbershop. The store's owner took an interest in helping Williams finish high school, where he excelled. Then the owner helped him apprentice in medicine, at which he also excelled. Finally, in 1880, the owner helped him apply to the Chicago Medical College at Northwestern University, where he was accepted and where he, once more, excelled. Williams was the first African American student in the program.

In 1883, the new Dr. Williams set up a small practice on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He also taught anatomy at Northwestern University and worked as a doctor for the City Railway Company and, later, the Protestant Orphan Asylum. He was one of just four African American doctors in Chicago at the time and yet his abilities were so obvious that in 1889, just six years into his career, he was appointed to the Illinois Board of Health. Williams wanted more. He wanted to do something more for the city and himself. He was aware that African Americans in Chicago often received poor care from white physicians and nurses. He also watched as African American doctors and nurses struggled to get training and positions, due to racism in hospitals and universities. The challenges facing young African Americans were not waning. At just this moment, a man Williams knew and respected, the Reverend Louis H. Reynolds, came to Williams asking for his help. Emma Reynolds, the reverend's sister, had recently applied to various Chicago hospitals to train as a nurse (she was the first African American to attempt to do so), but she was refused by every hospital because of her race. Her story moved Williams. After discussions with the Reverend Reynolds and other community members, Williams decided there was only one thing he could do: he would open a hospital. At that hospital, he would train African American nurses.

The hospital would come to be called the Provident Hospital and Training Association. It was a bold dream, one in which Williams convinced other doctors, white and black, and even donors to believe. Donations came from many sources, including both Frederick Douglass and the Armour meatpacking company (which would also supply the hospital with many patients due to injuries workers incurred on the job). In 1891, Williams signed the lease on a three-story, twelve-room red-brick house at the corner of Twenty-Ninth and Dearborn. Its living room was turned into a waiting room, and a small bedroom at the end of a hall would serve as a surgery ward. In its first year, this makeshift hospital trained seven nurses, one of whom was Emma Reynolds. It also treated hundreds of patients.

Nothing was ever easy at Provident Hospital, but the doctors and nurses made do with what they had. They had to improvise, because of a lack of supplies and the fact that, more than other Chicago hospitals, they dealt with a large number of trauma patients. Everything was difficult, but Williams and his team persevered. His was a story of hardworking man who overcame and hardworking nurses who helped him.

But elsewhere in the city, events were conspiring to change Williams's story. James Cornish worked as an expressman, a person charged with the care of packages on trains. The job was a good one, but July 9, 1893, was a bad day. The heat left him soaked with sweat, from morning until six. Worse, the heat did not fade, not even when the sun set. It was the kind of heat that called for a whiskey, which is just what Cornish proceeded to order that night at his favorite saloon. While others in Chicago sampled the best of the world at the White City, as the World's Fair had come to be called, Cornish settled in across town from the fair, among friends. He got his whiskey, took a sip, cracked a flirty joke to the waitress, and walked over to play poker with two friends who were already seated. He felt lucky. A song called "Daisy Bell" was playing loudly from the jukebox. He bounced a little as he walked, eager to laugh, wager, needle his friends, and laugh some more. Then things changed irrevocably.

The sounds around Cornish grew louder. Noise rose like dust. A fight had started. A chair was smashed over the bar. Punches began to land against sweat-damp bodies. Cornish stood on his toes to watch, and then suddenly he was in the scrum. A knife appeared. The man with the knife lunged toward Cornish and stabbed him in the chest. The man pulled the knife back out, someone screamed, the crowd dispersed, then sirens started and several women bent toward Cornish's body, which now lay on the ground.

An hour or so later, at Provident Hospital, Cornish was laid out on a stretcher. His clothes were soaked with blood. He was wheeled into an operating room, where the nurses and Daniel Hale Williams gathered around him. To Williams, Cornish's wound, about an inch in diameter, looked as though it might be superficial. But its location, just to the left of the breastbone, was worrisome. Without x-rays (they were to be discovered two years later, in 1895), there was no way of knowing how deep the wound might be or whether it had reached the heart. The only diagnostics available to Williams were ancient ones. He could feel Cornish's pulse. He could listen to his breathing. He could also put his head or, if he could afford one, a wooden stethoscope to Cornish's naked chest and listen for its wild sounds.

Initially, apart from the hole in his chest, Cornish seemed okay. His pulse was normal. His heart beat. He was cleaned up, sewn shut, and left to rest overnight. Cornish slept in a bedroom with a window that looked out across the city. He had not yet had a chance to inspect his surroundings. He was too weak and then too tired. Warm air blew through the curtains over him. Within hours, his condition, which had seemed stable, began to deteriorate. Dr. Williams was called back in. He ran to the room and up to Cornish's side, where he put his ear to his chest. Cornish's heartbeat was weak, and then, as Williams listened, it seemed to disappear entirely. The heart was still beating, but faintly. On July 10, Williams concluded that the knife must have penetrated more deeply than he had initially thought—all the way into the heart.

A knife to the heart can wreak havoc, though the precise sort of havoc depends on the details of where and how the knife enters. The heart has two sets of pumps. Together, the left atrium (LA in the figure) and left ventricle (LV) make up one; the right atrium (RA) and right ventricle (RV) the other. Each atrium (from Latin for "hall or court, a gathering place") sits atop its corresponding ventricle. When the left atrium contracts, it gently squeezes blood into the left ventricle. The blood does not need much of a push, as it moving from an area of high pressure into one of low. All it needs is a little nudge. The left ventricle then contracts much more forcefully, sending blood throughout the entire body, down the arteries, to the arterioles, and then through the six hundred million capillaries, each tube of which is just a single cell wide. The force of the left ventricle's contraction would be sufficient to push water five feet up into the air or, as is the need in the body, to push blood through the more than sixty thousand miles of blood vessels in the human body.

At the same time that the left atrium and then left ventricle contract, something similar happens in the right atrium and then right ventricle, except with less force because the blood leaving the right ventricle does not need to go through the whole body. It needs only to find its way to the lungs, where capillaries rest on three hundred million air sacs, and hemoglobin, in red blood cells in the blood, releases carbon dioxide and gathers oxygen.

The sounds of the heart, at least the most conspicuous sounds, are those of the valves between the atria and ventricles (the mitral on the left; the tricuspid on the right) closing when the ventricles contract (and, in doing so, preventing blood from flowing back into the atria) and then, more loudly, the valves between the ventricles and the arteries (the aortic on the left, the pulmonary on the right) closing once the ventricles have finished contracting (which prevents blood from flowing back into the ventricles): lub-dup, lub-dup. The sound of the heart is the closing of these valves, day in, day out, billions of times in a fortunate human life.

So much depends upon the heart's pumps. The blood that is pumped out of the left ventricle travels into the aorta, which serves as a superhighway from which blood is shunted off into branches to the arms and brain, to the internal organs (intestines, liver, kidneys), and to the legs and genitals. Meanwhile, the right atrium and ventricle receive the blood that has come back in a different form than it went out—now the blood is depleted of oxygen and full of carbon dioxide. This "used" blood is pumped to the lungs (via the pulmonary circulation; pulmo- comes from the Latin for "lung"), where blood cells, in effect, exhale carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen. The oxygenated blood then flows to the left atrium, where the process begins again.

All of this is happening in you right now. It happens in waves: contraction, relaxation. The contraction is referred to as systole (from the Greek for "to pull together"), the relaxation, diastole (from the Greek for "to separate"). Hold your hand to your neck, and you can feel, in the expansion and relaxation of your carotid arteries (which supply your brain with oxygenated blood), the consequence of your heart's pumping.

That is what you hope for, anyway, but when Williams felt his patient's neck, that is not what he found. Some assault on Cornish's internal machine had made the heart both weak and slow, and the pulse could barely be felt. A knife wound can provide a new hole through which blood pours into the body cavity instead of into arteries. It can also—and this is far worse—interrupt the ability of the heart to contract.

Just what was happening in Cornish's body was hard to say. Today we would have many more clues than Williams had. We could look at an x-ray, a sonogram, a CT scan, or an MRI. A catheter might be threaded into a patient's heart to release dye that would reveal, in the x-ray, the location of the damage. A machine would record the rhythm of the heart. What we would know today would not be perfect, but it would be useful. Williams had virtually nothing except the weakening of Cornish's heartbeat and his obviously deteriorating condition.

The weakening of a patient's heartbeat might be due to a problem in the heart itself, but it might also be due to loss of blood, to which, we now know, the body can partially respond. The arteries in our bodies are muscular. They contain a layer of smooth muscle. Smooth muscle is not under our conscious control, but it is under our bodies' unconscious, autonomic control. The muscles in our arteries do not push blood along—that is the heart's unique role—but they can widen or narrow the vessels to slow or speed up its passage. And one sort of artery, the arteriole, can actually stop the flow of blood. Arterioles are the narrowest arteries—they meet up with the capillaries, which then connect to venules, which in turn connect to the veins that carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart—and arterioles are narrow enough that when they contract, they close. They do so to influence the flow of blood in the body. When your fingers are cold, blame the arterioles, but also thank them because they are, based on the condition of your body, helping to move blood where it is most needed.

If Cornish was losing blood, the arterioles would have begun to shut off the flow through nearly all of the capillaries in the body (except those in the three organs that never, except in the very worst circumstances, lose their blood flow: the brain, the heart, and the lungs). When this happens, the pulse weakens, the extremities grow cold, and the body struggles to preserve that which it cannot do without.

With his patient deteriorating, Williams had to make a decision. He knew Cornish's heart was broken, but he was at a loss to say precisely how or why. No matter the cause, the most likely scenario seemed to be that Cornish, friend to many, son to one good mother, was about to die.

Knife wounds to the heart were remarkably common in 1893. They remain common today, though they are now rarely fatal. If you are stabbed in the heart, raced to the hospital, and operated on, you stand about an 80 percent chance of survival. A trauma to the heart can be operated on in any of a variety of ways, or not operated on at all, depending on the condition of the heart. The odds are now good for victims of stabbings, thanks to both technology and the learned skills of surgeons. But in 1893, the most likely consequence of a stab wound to the heart was death. Once the heart started to bleed, whether from a stab wound or some other assault, a patient depended purely on fate to survive, a kind of cardiac destiny. Sometimes the body was able restrict blood to the core and heal the wound before too much blood was lost. More often, it couldn't. Infections took over, or the heart lost its rhythm. Doctors sought medicines that might cure such wounds, but they sought in vain. And no doctor in the world was known to have successfully operated on a heart, wounded or otherwise. No one, as far as Williams knew, had even tried. It was the Mount Everest of the body, the great mountain not yet climbed. Yet, if Williams was anything, he was the kind of man who tried, the kind who might scale a mountain to save someone. He had tried working on shoes as a young man. He had tried working in a barbershop. He had even tried music and law. He had tried surgery and running a hospital. Now, on July 10, one day after Cornish was stabbed, he would try something even more novel.

Williams and the nurses looked down on Cornish. They all bent over him to closely inspect the damage. It seemed likely that his heart—that bloody engine—was torn, though even that was not entirely certain. If it was torn, Cornish would die from internal bleeding or, depending on the severity of his wound, heart failure. Williams could do what every other doctor in the same situation had done for the past ten thousand years, which was walk away. Or he could operate. Whatever he did, the heart was there, just inches from his face as he bent over his patient, just under the surface and yet for all of time so very far away.

One can imagine the sort of person it takes to perform the first surgery ever on a heart. He or she would need to be self-confident but also eager to go beyond what had been done, both to save a patient and to advance humanity. Williams was such an individual. On July 10, 1893, the operation began. Williams was handed a scalpel and the other tools necessary to cut into Cornish. He was about to attempt a feat surgeons all over the world had advised was too dangerous and immoral. Success or failure, Williams was about to make history.

The human heart beats, on average, about a hundred thousand times a day, pumping 7,500 liters of blood through arteries and veins. But this was no average day. On this day, Williams's heart would have rabbited along, pushing extra oxygen to his eager brain. Six other doctors had also gathered in the room. Williams swore he could hear their hearts too. This is the great irony of surgery and, more generally, medicine: that a doctor in one body bends to mend a patient in another body, the doctor relying on the same parts (her heart, her brain, her skin and flesh) she aims to fix in her patient. The room was more than a hundred degrees, and even before Williams began, everyone was sweating. Now, with anxiety and adrenaline, they were dripping so much that the floor was wet. Williams wiped his head and then, with the nurses at his side, inserted the blade into Cornish's wound and cut a six-inch incision. He inserted his right hand through the incision and pulled one of the ribs away from the sternum to make a hole, a kind of window through which he could look at Cornish's heart. He siphoned away the excess blood and, for the first time, had a clear view of the heart. In general terms, it was an ordinary heart, somewhat larger than a clenched fist, about five inches long, three and a half inches wide, and two inches thick. What was not ordinary was that it lay bare, as naked as a heart can be, suddenly at the mercy of insight, skill, and luck.


Excerpted from The Man Who Touched His Own Heart by Rob R. Dunn. Copyright © 2015 Rob R. Dunn. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rob Dunn is a professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. He is the author of The Wild Life of Our Bodies and Every Living Thing, and his magazine work is published widely, including in National Geographic, Natural History, New Scientist, Scientific American, and Smithsonian. He has a PhD from the University of Connecticut and was a Fulbright Fellow. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
BobSMD More than 1 year ago
Really enjoying this fascinating medical history book. Not at all a dry textbook, but rather like an action movie and a fast read as well.