Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Invasive Procedures

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets


Chatto & Windus 440pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Horrifying. There is no other word for the madness and monstrous ambition of such surgeons as William Beecher Scoville, Luke Dittrich’s grandfather. For years during the mid-20th century they tampered with their patients’ brains – about which they knew next to nothing – to satisfy their curiosity. Scoville rarely understood what he was doing or what the effects would be on his patients as he scraped at and gouged into their brains. Unfortunately, he and his colleagues had plenty of subjects – the ‘guests’ in asylums.

There is much memorable in Dittrich’s book, despite its disjointed narrative. A historically minded freelance journalist, Dittrich draws attention to the Nazi doctors who experimented on prisoners, for which they were condemned at Nuremberg, and the US Public Health Service doctors who in 1932 gave syphilis to unsuspecting black

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