Author(s): 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. 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.
Walter Freeman believed that "the despair of psychiatric illness demanded a decisive, drastic remedy." And that remedy was lobotomy, "cutting the neural connections in the prefrontal regions of the brain," a practice that these days, writes Jack El-Hai in The Lobotomist, "seems so obviously wrong." Freeman performed nearly 3,500 lobotomies and "aside from the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele ... ranks as the most scorned physician of the twentieth century." And yet, "many of the era's most important medical figures ... lent support to Freeman's work." Nor did he intend to cause harm. "I had to recognize," writes El-Hai, "the persuasive evidence that at times he acted in the best interests of his lobotomy patients, given the limitation of the medical environment in which he worked and the perilous nature of scientific innovation." (Washington Post Book World, March 18, 2007)
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.
Prologue. 1 September 1936. 2 Rittenhouse Square. 3 The Education of a Lobotomist. 4 In the Hospital Wards. 5 A Perfect Partner. 6 Refining Lobotomy. 7 The Lines of Battle. 8 Advance and Retreat. 9 Waterfall. 10 Fame. 11 Road Warrior. 12 Leaving Home. 13 Decline. 14 Ghost. Acknowledgments. Notes. Bibliography. Index.