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A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation.

Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King in a piercing study of one of psychiatric medicine’s darker hours.

Well known for recent takedowns of psychic charlatans, Esquire contributing editor Dittrich expands a feature story there to point an accusing finger at the old practices of lobotomy, electroshock, and other supposed therapies for mental illness. His accusation lands squarely on his own grandfather, a pioneer in the use of surgery to treat mental illness. “None would perform as many lobotomies as Freeman,” he writes of another leading doctor of the day, “who was as prolific as he was passionate. My grandfather, however, would come in a close second.” The problem was, no one in that day was sure why cutting into the frontal lobes had the effects it did or, indeed, how the brain really ticked. Dittrich’s story begins and ends, in frightening, graphic detail, with an unfortunate young boy who suffered an injury to his brain, which “sloshed forward in its watery womb, pushing up against the thin membrane of the pia mater and the thicker membranes of the arachnoid and dura mater, its weight compressing them all until it crashed against the unyielding barrier of his skull.” Surgery did not help; indeed, medical intervention played a role in what would become a textbook case of amnesia, made all the more tragic because the patient could not form new memories and could not remember who his aging mother was except against the index of the long-ago picture he held of her as a young woman, part of the “eternal limbo to which my grandfather’s operation had sentenced him.” Dittrich’s riveting tale turns up numerous other surprises, including a battle among academic giants over the ownership of the poor patient’s brain and a skeleton in the family closet involving, almost literally, a mad woman in the attic. Though long, there’s not a wasted word in the book, which should make readers glad we live in the age of Prozac and not the scalpel.

A mesmerizing, maddening story and a model of journalistic investigation.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9273-1

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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