Charles Fernyhough

Total Lack of Recall

Permanent Present Tense: The Man with No Memory, and What He Taught the World


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 364pp £20 order from our bookshop

In February 2009, a pair of neuroscientists carried an icebox through gate security at Logan Airport in Boston, under the gaze of a PBS film crew sent to document the event. Bypassing the security scanner so as not to expose the contents of the cooler to radiation, one of the researchers carried the box onto a waiting plane while the other, the neuropsychologist Suzanne Corkin, waved goodbye to her life’s work. Packed in ice inside the cooler was a human brain – possibly the most famous brain in history. It belonged to the amnesiac Henry Molaison, whose recent death had allowed his identity (for so long shrouded behind the initials ‘HM’) to be released to the world. 

Corkin, who probably knew Henry better than anyone else, worked with him from 1962, when she was a graduate student, to his death in 2008. Over the decades, neuropsychologists, psychologists and neuroscientists probed his short- and long-term memory,

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