mental health · non fiction · psychology

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

One of the only non fiction books that has managed to keep my full attention throughout the whole book.

If you are unaware, Patient H.M. is one of the most famous psychological cases ever. H.M. was a man who had severe epilepsy, and because of it, he underwent a surgery on his brain, which led to him having very extensive amnesia. And he led to some of the most valuable findings on human memory.

This book caught my attention as soon as I saw it on Netgalley (thank you ever so much for the review copy!). I study psychology and H.M. was mentioned in every single of my courses from the very first day I started. Naturally, I wanted to know more about him. Unfortunately, I did not learn more.

Luke Dittrich is the grandson of William Beecher Scoville, a psychosurgeon who did the operation that led to H.M.’s amnesia. So from the beginning there is this personal note to the whole story. Which was somewhat good and somewhat bad.

Dittrich takes on a wide scope, and it seems like it was too wide. This book really isn’t about H.M. It is about him from about 50 percent in to about 80 percent in. The rest takes on the history of neurosurgery, lobotomy, mental institutions and treatment of patients in them. It’s also about Dittrich’s grandfather and his grandmother, his family. It just felt like the book tried to do too much. This led to a completely unstructured narrative. It would leap from one topic to another, without a semblance of a connection between the two. It jumped from H.M. to his grandfather to the history of mental institutions. All of the facts were intriguing, but the way they were packed was not.

I also had some issues with the writing. The writing is very literary and has that special personal note to it, given the genealogy of the writer. This led to two things: one, I was invested in the story at all times, much more than I am usually with non-fiction. But, two, it felt really speculative at times, far-fetched and hard to believe. It lost its factual merit and seemed like the writer was making stuff up to make the story more interesting, which I personally don’t like in this kind of non fiction.

However, I think this is highly informative. Yes, it has some problems with cohesiveness and structure which are undeniable. And given the fact that all of the information that was in here was already so familiar for me, I couldn’t look past the fact that the book was so incomprehensible and unorganised.

But I believe that for someone who just wants to learn more about psychology, this could be a rewarding read.

I am usually not so quick to recommend my 3 star reads, but since this is really a personal problem, I would still recommend you check this out, since you can learn a lot about the basics of the human brain and its mapping of psychological “abilities”, but also a lot about the history of neurosurgery.



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