Patient H.M. Book Summary - Patient H.M. Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

Patient H.M. summary

Luke Dittrich

A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

4.5 (12 ratings)
23 mins
Table of Contents

    Patient H.M.
    Summary of 9 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 9

    There’s a long and storied history of our fascination with the brain.

    It’s never a good idea to underestimate the brain. After all, this most important of organs controls everything about us, from how we walk and talk to how fast our hearts beat.

    One of the first to recognize the brain’s importance was the Greek physician Hippocrates, born in 460 BC.

    Hippocrates, commonly considered the father of modern medicine, broke with many of the medical assumptions of his day. For instance, he theorized that epilepsy was not an act of the gods, as had long been believed, but rather an impairment caused by the brain.

    But even before Hippocrates’s time, Egyptians had learned a thing or two about the brain.

    Archaeologists have discovered a fascinating 3,600-year-old Egyptian scroll that offers advice for patients who have open wounds exposing their brains. It says to keep the wound clean and protected so it can heal on its own, instructions that suggest an understanding of the brain’s importance and fragility.

    Yet there are those who experimented with ways of tampering with the brain.

    Forms of brain surgery may have been attempted some 7,000 years ago; in Ensisheim, France, prehistoric skulls bearing what appear to be small surgical holes have been unearthed from an ancient gravesite.

    In 1888, Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt attempted to cure a patient’s “madness” by removing 18 grams of her brain matter. His peers were appalled. The idea of cutting open skulls and slicing up brains was radical, to say the least.

    But fifty years later, in 1935, a Portuguese neuroanatomist named Egas Moniz picked up where Burckhardt had left off and performed the first leucotomy, from the Greek leucos, for white, and tome, to cut, a procedure where white nerve fibers in the brain are cut.

    Dr. Moniz’s inspiration was the Yale physiologist John Fulton, who’d been experimenting on chimpanzees. Fulton discovered that his chimps became calmer and more manageable when the frontal lobes of their brains were damaged.

    And so Dr. Moniz attempted to help severely depressed patients by drilling two holes in their heads and cutting brain matter from the frontal lobe.

    The results of this procedure were published in 1936 and presented as a possible treatment for mental illness, marking the start of a revolution in both psychiatry and surgery.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Patient H.M.?

    Key ideas in Patient H.M.

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Patient H.M. about?

    Patient H. M. (2016) chronicles the history of the lobotomy procedure, focusing particularly on a famous figure in this story – an amnesic named Henry Molaison, or, as he is also known, Patient H.M. Journey back to when the lobotomy first became a popular treatment for mental illness and learn how it helped us better understand the brain.

    Best quote from Patient H.M.

    Egas Moniz won the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his invention of the leucotomy.

    —Luke Dittrich
    example alt text

    Who should read Patient H.M.?

    • Science geeks interested in neuroscience
    • Readers who want to better understand themselves
    • Anyone interested in the history of medicine

    About the Author

    Luke Dittrich is a contributing editor at Esquire, where his writing has won him the National Magazine Award. His first book, Patient H.M., was awarded the 2017 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. He is also the grandson of infamous neurosurgeon, Dr. William Scoville.

    Categories with Patient H.M.

    Books like Patient H.M.

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial