Friday, February 6, 2015

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart by Rob Dunn

Today, one in three adults will die of a disease of the cardiovascular system. Our hearts are our weakness. Dunn takes us through the fascinating history of studying the heart and curing its ailments.

This is an engaging book. Readers who liked The Emperor of All Maladies or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will enjoy this one. It is well written, very readable, and flows as well as a novel.

Dunn starts with the first heart surgery in 1893 (and actually an unpublished one in 1891) and why the heart had not been touched before that. He takes us back to Galen, physician to gladiators, observer of human anatomy and prolific writer. We then travel through the Dark Ages, DaVinci and the age of knowledge and beauty, then Vesalius and his anatomy studies.

We read of Forssmann, the first man to insert a tube up a vein in his own arm, pushing it until it reached his right atrium, the first man to touch his own heart. (1929) Surgeons in Germany thought the act outlandish and Forssmann was relegated to ordinary and obscure medical work. Americans pursued the technique, however. He must have been shocked when he, along with two American doctors, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1956.

Dunn continues with the development of the heart-lung machine, pacemaker, transplant experiments, artificial heart, finding that atherosclerosis is ancient, bypasses, angioplasty, the role of cholesterol, the tetrology of Fallot operation, hibernation and longevity, and the future.

This is a very interesting book. I was amazed at how recent effective heart treatment is, basically in my own lifetime. Well written and very informative, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of heart treatment.

Rob Dunn is an associate professor in Ecology and Evolution in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. He has a Ph.D. From the University of Connecticut and was a Fulbright Fellow. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Little, Brown, and Company, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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