Monday, September 23, 2019

Thoughts on Dittrich’s Patient HM: Strong personalities bring the science of memory to life

I enjoyed reading Luke Dittrich's book entitled "Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets." This book combines a great story about the celebrated patient Henry Molaison with factual knowledge about the brain. The personalities involved in the story were intriguing, from a great surgeon and his grandson to recent scientists battling over control of tissue samples and data. I found reading about the personal struggles helpful to understand the scientific road taken. I also enjoyed the interspersed facts about brain anatomy and some of the peculiarities of the approaches and lives of neurosurgeons and neuroscientists, such as how we somewhat haphazardly get at the seat of memory and how we disentangle key concepts such as semantic memory.

Despite being an overall interesting book, I definitely felt Dittrich took it "to the edge" with some of his points about Suzanne Corkin's treatment of Henry Molaison's brain, his famous grandmother, and the operations he performed. I wonder whether these highly controversial points are backed up by robust factual research. Nonetheless, the book was thought-provoking and enjoyable to read.

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