The story of the studied human research subject of all time, the amnesic known as Patient H.M., a man who forever altered our understanding of how memory works—and whose treatment (by the author's grandfather) raises deeply unsettling questions about the human cost of scientific progress.
Dittrich shifts between Molaison’s and his grandfather’s disturbing stories, detailing ethical dilemmas alongside scientific history ... Admirably, Dittrich bares family secrets — including a stunner late in the book — and doesn’t flinch from his grandfather’s flaws ... Beautifully told, Patient H.M. should remind us how close we are in time to gargantuan errors in the practice of medicine.
Patient H.M. is part pop science book, part family history, and part worrying essay about the ethics of medical research ... Most readers won't be in a position to judge the science (I'm not), but the writing is satisfying and graceful, with a flair for dramatic emphasis that only occasionally veers into showiness ... The person of H.M. remains necessarily hazy, but Dittrich writes a vivid and painful story of the dark tension between desire for knowledge and that most basic tenet: First, do no harm.
[The first two-thirds] are an exciting, artful blend of family and medical history — expertly structured, told in a jiggly, vérité style. They make clear that H.M.’s surgery did not happen in a vacuum. It was part of a much larger and unseemly trend ... Any book with neuroscience this complex and content this provocative really needs footnotes. This book has none. Zero. And that’s just weird. If Mr. Dittrich is going to insist on stringent documentation from M.I.T., he ought to do the same himself. This controversy, however, should not obscure the fine personal and historical story Mr. Dittrich tells, which remains the most interesting material in the book.