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Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted Hardcover – February 2, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Clearly an homage to the man to whom “virtually every academically affiliated surgeon can trace his or her teachers,” teaching surgeon Imber’s effort is more than a biography. It is a scholarly reconstruction, complete with historical perspective, of the life of a man who managed to revolutionize surgical practices and, indeed, the entire field of surgery, while battling the enduring and debilitating consequences of self-inflicted medical experimentation. To make surgery more efficient for surgeons, safer, and freer of pain for patients, Halsted began to explore various methods of anesthesia, including the then recently discovered drug, cocaine. He became addicted. Failure to kick that addiction played havoc with his professional life and ultimately forced him to turn optimistically to heroin, generally thought at the time to be an effective treatment. The result was lifelong heroin dependence, despite which he was eventually able to not only function but also continue a brilliant career. Imber’s academic style and inclusive approach are solid but may not appeal to all tastes. --Donna Chavez

Review


"Gerald Imber's new biography is the first retelling of Halsted's story in many decades and a particularly expert and thought-provoking narrative makes the intense strangeness of Halsted's subsequent career a gripping story."--Abigail Zuger, "New York Times "Science section
..".Dr. Gerald Imber's unpredictable and unflappable biography, an intrigue-filled life story that's also a sweeping pop medical history, depicts an individual who was two different kinds of good - make that, great - doctor." --Baltimore Sun
"With this engaging (if spectacularly subtitled) biography, Imber brings into focus the amazing strides medicine has made over 150 years." --Publishers Weekly
"Imber provides a few other colorful details about Halsted: He named his dachshunds "Nip" and "Tuck" and was such an indifferent college student that "there is no record of Halsted ever having borrowed a book from the Yale library." He did crack a book during his senior year: Gray's "Anatomy," which inspired him to pursue medicine." --Washington Post


"A gripping mixture of medical history and detailed biographical analysis.".." "--Huffington Post
"He provides a vivid sense of many "larger-than-life personalities," including those of William Welch, William Osler, Howard Kelly, Harvey Cushing, and Walter Dandy. His powers of description are compelling, and his carefully chosen words seem to let the monumental events speak for themselves. The book is a must-read for residents. The residency of the 21st century is evolving from that of the 20th, but it will be a long time before Halsted's imprint is no longer palpable." --Anesthesiology
"Gerald Imber has captured in one grisly sweep the barbarism of both early surgery and the manure-trodden streets it grew from. Like Doctorow's RAGTIME, it's evocative in broad strokes....Not just for history buffs, Imber gives any reader a character for the ages. Riveting." --Mary Karr, author of "The Liars' Club

"Gerald Imber's new biography is the first retelling of Halsted's story in many decades and a particularly expert and thought-provoking narrative makes the intense strangeness of Halsted's subsequent career a gripping story."--Abigail Zuger, "New York Times "Science section
..".Dr. Gerald Imber's unpredictable and unflappable biography, an intrigue-filled life story that's also a sweeping pop medical history, depicts an individual who was two different kinds of good - make that, great - doctor." --Baltimore Sun
"With this engaging (if spectacularly subtitled) biography, Imber brings into focus the amazing strides medicine has made over 150 years." --Publishers Weekly
"Imber provides a few other colorful details about Halsted: He named his dachshunds "Nip" and "Tuck" and was such an indifferent college student that "there is no record of Halsted ever having borrowed a book from the Yale library." He did crack a book during his senior year: Gray's "Anatomy," which inspired him to pursue medicine." --Washington Post


"A gripping mixture of medical history and detailed biographical analysis.".." "--Huffington Post
"He provides a vivid sense of many "larger-than-life personalities," including those of William Welch, William Osler, Howard Kelly, Harvey Cushing, and Walter Dandy. His powers of description are compelling, and his carefully chosen words seem to let the monumental events speak for themselves. The book is a must-read for residents. The residency of the 21st century is evolving from that of the 20th, but it will be a long time before Halsted's imprint is no longer palpable." --Anesthesiology
"Gerald Imber has captured in one grisly sweep the barbarism of both early surgery and the manure-trodden streets it grew from. Like Doctorow's RAGTIME, it's evocative in broad strokes....Not just for history buffs, Imber gives any reader a character for the ages. Riveting." --Mary Karr, author of "The Liars' Club
"

Gerald Imber s new biography is the first retelling of Halsted s story in many decades and a particularly expert and thought-provoking narrative makes the intense strangeness of Halsted s subsequent career a gripping story. Abigail Zuger, "New York Times "Science section
Dr. Gerald Imber's unpredictable and unflappable biography, an intrigue-filled life story that's also a sweeping pop medical history, depicts an individual who was two different kinds of good - make that, great - doctor. Baltimore Sun
"With this engaging (if spectacularly subtitled) biography, Imber brings into focus the amazing strides medicine has made over 150 years." Publishers Weekly
"Imber provides a few other colorful details about Halsted: He named his dachshunds "Nip" and "Tuck" and was such an indifferent college student that "there is no record of Halsted ever having borrowed a book from the Yale library." He did crack a book during his senior year: Gray's "Anatomy," which inspired him to pursue medicine." Washington Post


A gripping mixture of medical history and detailed biographical analysis.".. " Huffington Post
He provides a vivid sense of many larger-than-life personalities, including those of William Welch, William Osler, Howard Kelly, Harvey Cushing, and Walter Dandy. His powers of description are compelling, and his carefully chosen words seem to let the monumental events speak for themselves. The book is a must-read for residents. The residency of the 21st century is evolving from that of the 20th, but it will be a long time before Halsted's imprint is no longer palpable. Anesthesiology
Gerald Imber has captured in one grisly sweep the barbarism of both early surgery and the manure-trodden streets it grew from. Like Doctorow's RAGTIME, it's evocative in broad strokes .Not just for history buffs, Imber gives any reader a character for the ages. Riveting. Mary Karr, author of "The Liars Club
"" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Kaplan Publishing; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607146274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607146278
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dr. Gerald Imber will change your views of what it means to be a doctor and a patient, to be sick and to be well. While tracing the convoluted evolution of modern surgery, Imber also chronicles the prodigious, twisted career of the greatest surgeon in American history. As he modernized medicine - introducing such life-sparing novelties as anesthesia, scrubsuits, handwashing, sterlized instruments, even while the medical establishment strenuously resisted his innovations -- Halsted himself descended into a dark, secretive abyss of cocaine abuse and closeted homosexuality. Yet Halsted's techniques and his teaching were so unimpeachably sound, they remain the model for practicing and teaching surgery today. Halsted's story is written with such clarity, it will appeal universally - along the way, Imber's tale encompasses, among other matters, 19th-century American and European history, and some commendably high and lamentably low examples of the human condition. It is a wonder Halsted never had a biography before; we should be very grateful that Dr. Gerald Imber took on this daunting task. His impressive scholarship never gets in the way of good story telling. The charm, humor, and authority of the author's voice shines warmly throughout the sprawling narrative.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By far the best biography I have read. I did not have to skip over any boring parts or risk falling asleep. It was strange to realize that not only did people not always use sterile practices but that within the last 100 years people did not use sterile practices. Dr Halsted snd his peers were the creators of modern medicine as we still know it, and their story is a fascinating one.
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Format: Hardcover
"Genius on the Edge" is an interesting book describing the medical developments (especially in surgery) during the period of about 1846 to 1922. The first third of the book mainly focused on what surgery was like before this period, on the developments that occurred from 1846 to 1889, and how they affected Halsted's medical training and prompted his surgical innovations. The rest of the book was more a series of short biographies of men who worked with Halsted and the developments they (and he) brought to the practice of surgery from 1889-1922. It also covered Halsted's marriage and how he lived.

The author didn't assume that the reader was familiar with medical terms and so concisely worked that information in as was needed to understand the innovations. He did an excellent job of making the topic fascinating and easy to understand. I found the book a quick read despite the amount of information packed into it. I also liked how the author wove the general technological changes and social setting into the story so we could see how society effected the advances and how Halsted and the others influenced society in turn. While the book mostly focused on American surgery (especially that done at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), the author also brought up related advances over in Europe.

There were only a couple of brief descriptions of actual surgery, so most of the book probably wouldn't bother those who get queasy by descriptions of operations.

Some of the topics covered were: the introduction of general anesthetics, heat sterilization, and antiseptics to make surgery safer. How medical training had been done and how it changed (both in medical school and post-graduate) under the influence of Halsted and his friends at Johns Hopkins.
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This biography of one of the luminaries of American surgery reads more like a history text, attempting to include every detail and minutiae surrrounding its main subject, Dr. William S. Halsted. It is replete with documented facts, innuendo, myths and gossip about a brilliant but troubled surgeon, a perfectionist who dedicated his entire being to his craft; but was also intensely private and secretive. His drug addiction to Cocaine and Morphine was a collateral effect of his research & expeimentation (on himself) for pain control during and after surgery, his long abscences from work (4-6 months at a time) and frequent trips to Europe were tolerated by his colleagues because of his immense contributions to surgery, to teaching and to building Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Until the period between the two Great World wars, Europe led the world in medical and surgical advances. Many American doctors flocked to Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin et al for training; this included Dr. Halsted. His trips to Europe were to perfect his craft and not to troll for homosexual trysts as implied in the book.

The book is redundant, repetitive and poorly written. It is mostly about the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Halsted's colleagues and students. The information about Dr. Halsted could have been fit into an article of a few pages. The book would have benefited from professional editing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This could be subtitled: "The History of Modern American Medicine, 1870-1920." While the central character, Dr. William Halstead (yes, although a New Yorker, Halstead Avenue in Chicago is named after his family), is at the epicenter of this saga, it really is about the founding, funding, running and growth of Johns Hopkins University and Medical School...and the creation of modern medical practices, techniques and training. Halstead is a curious character -- brash, brilliant, idiosyncratic, who pioneered modern surgical techniques while tending to a 40 year daily morphine and cocaine habit. He discovered that injecting cocaine under the skin caused numbness for surgery, and dental work. He also discovered that injecting it into your veins gave you new vigor and energy, which he couldn't shake for most of his adult live. Halstead championed antiseptic practices in the operating room (he was the first in the world to use rubber gloves when operating), anesthesiology, neurosurgery, hernia surgery (before Halstead, less than half of hernia surgery patients lived!), mastectomy and glandular surgery -- among other achievements. What Halstead was to surgery, Johns Hopkins was to medical training.
This story is well told by the author who is also an M.D. Fascinating glimpse into the dawn of modern medicine from only 100 years ago.
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