Author:† Jack El-Hai
Publisher:† John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The following review was contributed by:† Jennifer Brown†& Click Here To View Jennifer Brown's Reviews
Ask any mental health professional who Walter Freeman was and youíd likely get a blank stare.† In a profession full of names like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and B.F. Skinner, a name like Walter Freeman just wonít ring a bell.† Strange, really, given the significant impact he had on the world of mental health.
Nearly everyone, mental health professionals and lay people alike, have heard of the procedure that Freeman brought to the U.S., refined, and eventually popularized:† the lobotomy.†††
Jack El-Haiís book, THE LOBOTOMIST, tells the life story of Walter Freeman, dedicated lobotomist.† El-Hai, who is the Executive Vice President of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, is known for his exemplary work in medical journalism, most notably for receiving the June Roth Memorial Award for Medical Journalism.†
Today, lobotomy carries with it sinister connotations, the likes of which have been dramatized in books and movies, but in the late 1940ís and early 1950ís, Freemanís ideas in the field of neurosurgery and how it could improve problems associated with a burgeoning mental health system made him a celebrity, albeit a controversial one.†
Born into a legacy of medicine, Freeman brought to his work a dogged determination that often took priority over most anything else.† He was fiercely dedicated to the lobotomy, and trumpeted its merit for decades, even long after anyone was listening.† He and his partner James Watts were the first in the U.S. to perform prefrontal lobotomies to ease the symptoms of many mental health diseases.† Later, Freeman single-handedly refined the lobotomy by creating the transorbital lobotomy, a procedure that could be performed sans-sterilization and in only minutes.
Freemanís fierce commitment to the transorbital lobotomy may have brought him many enemies within the field of psychosurgery; however, thousands of patients were lobotomized across the country due to the simplicity of the transorbital method.† For many, lobotomy meant the difference between living in a hospital and living at home.† His devotion to the procedure resulted in a log of patient notes unparalleled, as Freeman traveled thousands of miles in decades-long searches of patients that had been lobotomized.†
El-Haiís story of Walter Freeman is a spell-binding and sometimes frightening view of the mental health profession just a few decades ago.† El-Hai manages to take what must have amounted to mountains of research, notes, and photos to create a meticulously comprehensive biography of a man whose name is little known.† El-Haiís writing is flawless, his research unmatched, and the story captivating.
THE LOBOTOMIST would make an invaluable supplemental tool for Psychology/Psychiatry students, and a great read for just about anyone else.† I defy any reader to make it through THE LOBOTOMIST without cringing in fear, wringing their hands in despair, and learning valuable lessons about the history of mental health in the U.S.