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

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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


“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 (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gerald Imber, M.D., is a graduate of the State University of New York Medical College and was trained in plastic surgery at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical College, where he maintains a professional affiliation as a plastic surgeon and clinical assistant professor of surgery. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Angel Steller on February 7, 2010
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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By ryan morrison on May 24, 2010
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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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Debbie TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2010
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Franta on June 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like most people, I never gave any thought whatsoever to how our modern surgeries evolved, and took for granted that Westernized modern surgeries require a sterile field, sterile rooms and sterile gloves. This book, "Genius on the Edge; the Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted", grabbed me by my collar at the bookstore, and after reading the first two pages, "the Prologue," I was hooked. I bought this book, not hearing anything about it, or even the legendary genius, Dr. Halsted. I read the whole thing in two days.

"Surgery would be delightful if you did not have to operate," was the opening statement of this fine book, given many years ago - by the brilliant Dr. Halsted. Back in the day, when surgery was just being figured out, most `surgeons' were mere "butchers" by today's standards, or "meat carvers" - whose surgical prowess and technique was judged on how fast they could do the deed. Surgery was excruciatingly painful and left physical and emotional scars that never healed. Many surgeons of that era were very hard on the body parts they operated on; and a patient of that era was fortunate if their surgeon knew how to use a bar of soap & water prior to operating. A huge percentage of early patients did poorly post-op, so consequently, surgery was the last resort any person chose. Most persons died of the resulting infection than the original malady, and Dr. Halsted was painfully aware of this and set out to correct it.

The true story of this book was really never fully explored. A lot was said in regards to Dr. Halsted's self-experimentation with Cocaine, and how he carefully calibrated small doses as he experimented with Coke for dental procedures.
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