• Patient H.M.

  • A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
  • By: Luke Dittrich
  • Narrated by: George Newbern
  • Length: 14 hrs and 34 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (261 ratings)

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Patient H.M.

By: Luke Dittrich
Narrated by: George Newbern
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Publisher's Summary

“Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King”* in this propulsive, haunting journey into the life of the most studied human research subject of all time, the amnesic known as Patient H.M. For listeners of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks comes a story that has much to teach us about our relentless pursuit of knowledge.

Winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner

Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post , New York Post, NPR, The Economist, New York, Wired, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage

In 1953, a 27-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison - who suffered from severe epilepsy - received a radical new version of the then-common lobotomy, targeting the most mysterious structures in the brain. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. Over the next 60 years, Patient H.M., as Henry was known, became the most studied individual in the history of neuroscience, a human guinea pig who would teach us much of what we know about memory today. 

Patient H.M. is, at times, a deeply personal journey. Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison - and thousands of other patients. The author’s investigation into the dark roots of modern memory science ultimately forces him to confront unsettling secrets in his own family history and to reveal the tragedy that fueled his grandfather’s relentless experimentation - experimentation that would revolutionize our understanding of ourselves. 

Dittrich uses the case of Patient H.M. as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, one that moves from the first recorded brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the cutting-edge laboratories of MIT. He takes listeners inside the old asylums and operating theaters where psychosurgeons, as they called themselves, conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a bitter custody battle over the ownership of the most important brain in the world. Patient H.M. combines the best of biography, memoir, and science journalism to create a haunting, endlessly fascinating story, one that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide.

“An exciting, artful blend of family and medical history.” (The New York Times)

* Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

©2016 Luke Dittrich (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King in a piercing study of one of psychiatric medicine's darker hours.... A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Patient H.M. tells one of the most fascinating and disturbing stories in the annals of medicine, weaving in ethics, philosophy, a personal saga, the history of neurosurgery, the mysteries of human memory, and an exploration of human ego." (Sheri Fink, MD, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Five Days at Memorial)

“In prose both elegant and intimate, and often thrilling, Patient H.M. is an important book about the wages not of sin but of science. It is deeply reported and surprisingly emotional, at times poignant, at others shocking.... A scintillating book, infused with humanity.” (The Washington Post)

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What listeners say about Patient H.M.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • L
  • 10-27-16

Sort of misleading title

Based on the titled I thought this would be a book very much focused on patient HM. However at times I felt like HM was just a side character to the authors family story. The last couple of chapters that really focus on the science and research of HM were how I thought the book should have been portrayed all along. Overall not a bad read however it should have been titled and marketed as a story about the doctor who made patient HM. Not the story of patient HM.

3 people found this helpful

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Awful

Tried to like it. Terribly written. Jumped all over within chapters to different stories with no warning. Ridiculously long drawn out storytelling to get to a point. And that point was usually boring.

3 people found this helpful

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Overall enjoyable but a bit long winded

I really enjoyed the story overall, but it seemed to go back and forth a lot and veer off on loosely related side tangents. I think some of the extra stuff could have been cut out but overall very interesting story regarding HM as well as the personal family story. I do think the parts about Suzanne had a very negative tone, and could have benefitted from more unbiased story telling.

2 people found this helpful

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Riveting material; disapointing execution

Meandering tangents -- both personal (e.g. birth of author's daughter and path to career in journalism ) and general historical (e.g. Nuremberg) -- impede any satisfying overarching narrative.

2 people found this helpful

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Patient H.M. - A minor character

This book is supposed to primarily be about the most important neuroscience patient in history. And he is certainly discussed, but I never really understood exactly what we learned from studying him for so many years. I assume it must have been valuable, but I am hard pressed to understand what was learned that was worth the dismal quality of life of this poor man. Before I even got to the controversial part of the book, that evidently has the neuroscience community up in arms, I had already decided that the person primarily responsible for him a Dr. Corkin, treated him irresponsibly. It was obvious that those treating him had forgotten he was human.

The studies with H.M. just seemed to be series of interviews asking him the same questions, mostly quite inane, and his response which was always consistent. If I, as a total layman figured out after the 2nd or 3rd interview that the guy had no short term memory, I don't get what they were trying to prove by asking him the same question, several times a year over the course of a decade.

But I did find the story of the author's grandparent's fascinating. Creepy, but fascinating.

2 people found this helpful

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Captivating!

Science, history, drama and academic turf wars: I thoroughly enjoyed the information and the narrative style. I thought the narrator did a good job.

2 people found this helpful

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Boring writing and narration

Had to abandon it after a few chapters, unfortunately. Narration makes it a chore to listen to

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating!

A marvelous neurological biography full of medicine, history and human pathos! Amazingly good! I have read a lot in this field and this is truly a great book.

1 person found this helpful

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An Evolutionary Tale into Patient HM and the Predictable HealthCare Professionals

A Neurosurgeon will always cut, it's predictable, he never stands in the back if the room to observe. A psychologist will always asks innumerable questions that hint at many roads of possibilities. A Journalist will always find a new, intriguing angle for a story. All predictable. Dittrich engages the audience in a convoluted, yet related story about famous Patient HM. Surprised that some procedures seem so barbaric, not surprising that all professions predictably acted the way the were trained.

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We all have suffered to a degree.

Always question wayward physicians, especially after this sobering read. The soul is within us all.

1 person found this helpful