The wonderfully witty Friedman (A Mind of its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, 2001) moves on to a more serious subject: the heralded aviator’s partnership with a Nobel Prize–winning surgeon on innovations that laid the groundwork for organ transplants, cryosurgery and the artificial heart.
They met in 1930, three years after his solo transatlantic flight made Charles Lindbergh a household name, and 18 after Dr. Alexis Carrel won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in cutting and reconnecting blood vessels. Lindbergh had radical ideas about repairing heart valves and installing pumps to replace ailing hearts that were, Dr. Carrel informed him, unfeasible with contemporary technologies. But Carrel invited Lindbergh to observe and then join his experiments in vascular surgery and tissue culture at the Rockefeller Institute. Friedman delineates the subsequent collaboration of this unlikely pair in a fast-paced, energetic text that reads like a novel. Science was Lindbergh’s true love, which was fostered by his parents. Carrel was a quirky Frenchman who dabbled in the paranormal, gave advice on marriage in Reader’s Digest and penned a bestseller on the destiny of man. His laboratory became a refuge for the reluctant celebrity, particularly after the much publicized kidnapping of Lindbergh’s infant son in 1932. Working under Carrel’s supervision, the aviator perfected a perfusion system to preserve organs outside the body. Both men believed that science would allow humanity to “create a race of giants who could leap 200 yards into the air and live forever.” They also believed that only the best and brightest should be allowed to reproduce, a view that prompted their disastrous foray into the realm of politics and social planning. Carrel later atoned for this hubris by going to the aid of Vichy France; Lindbergh recanted his belief in eugenics and embraced environmentalism.
A captivating study of medical innovation, the fallibility of science and two adventurous minds.