Novelist Stephen Amidon (Security, 2009, etc.) and his brother, cardiologist Thomas Amidon, examine the “different ways that we have thought about the heart ever since it first took root in the Western imagination.”
The authors begin with an account of the Egyptian practice of mummifying the bodies of their elite. All internal organs were removed and disposed of, with the exception of the heart, believed to be the repository of the soul. As part of their religious rituals, physician-priests preserved the heart separately but also studied its physical function in the body. According to a papyrus dated approximately 1500 BCE, they developed a rudimentary notion of the circulatory system. Greek physicians, who were banned from dissecting corpses, believed the heart to be the source of bodily heat because of its role in sustaining life but debated whether the capacity for thought and emotion was located in the heart or the brain. Looking at the Middle Ages, the authors assert that “[t]heology trumped biology,” with the body seen as the seat of sin. During the Renaissance, there was a rebirth of science and art, and Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy. Although he adopted mistaken Greek views of the heart's function, he made realistic drawings of coronary arteries. In the 16th century, William Harvey explained the action of the circulatory system and the heart's role as a pump—a discovery the Amidons rank with those of Newton and Galileo—while his contemporary Shakespeare explored its vast metaphorical content. The authors review the great advances in the treatment of heart disease over the past century and look optimistically to the future.
An enjoyable celebration of the collaboration of visionaries.