Luke Dittrich is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor at Esquire and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. His on-the-job experiences have included running a marathon in Antarctica, tracking a bull elephant across Northern Kenya and walking 340 miles of the United States/Mexico border. When he’s not on a reporting trip, he divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and the far north of Canada’s Yukon Territory.
A National Magazine Award-winning investigative journalist explores the scientific, ethical and, above all, human dimensions of one of the most important stories in the history of medicine.
In the summer of 1953, a renowned Yale neurosurgeon named William Beecher Scoville performed a novel brain operation on a 27-year-old epileptic patient named Henry Molaison. The operation failed to eliminate Molaison’s seizures, but it did have another, unintended effect: it left Molaison profoundly amnesic for the rest of his life, unable to create new long term memories. Patient H.M., as he came to be known, would emerge as the most important human research subject in the history of neuroscience.
Luke Dittrich uses the case of Patient H.M. as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, one that takes readers inside the old asylums and operating theaters where “psychosurgeons” conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a custody battle that is still being waged over the ownership of the most important brain in the world. Patient H.M. is also a deeply personal journey. Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison, along with 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.