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My Lobotomy Paperback – August 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Johnny Heller brings the tale of Dully's childhood lobotomy to life in this rugged, clear-cut autobiography. Heller perfectly captures Dully's San Jose accent, adding a grain to words to give a slightly raspy tone. Detailing the author's troubled, often heartbreaking childhood, Heller narrates at a surprisingly swift and unrelenting pace, resulting in an even stronger portrayal of Dully's story as he opts not to hammer each tragic occurrence into the listener's mind. Rather, Heller relates the story in matter-of-factly, as Dully never pauses to mourn his painful adolescence, but chooses to include as much information as he possibly can while speaking of his own experiences. Dully's honest story never pleads for the audience's sympathies, but firmly demands their attention. Heller does not disappoint as he relates this intriguing and painful tale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


"The lobotomy, although terrible, was not the greatest injury done to him. His greatest misfortune, as his own testimony makes clear, was being raised by parents who could not give him love. The lobotomy, he writes, made him feel like a Frankenstein monster. But that's not quite right. By the age of 12 he already felt that way. It's this that makes My Lobotomy one of the saddest stories you'll ever read."
—William Grimes, The New York Times

"Dully's tale is a heartbreakingly sad story of a life seriously, tragically interrupted. All Howard Dully wanted was to be normal. His entire life has been a search for normality. He did what he had to do to survive. This book is his legacy, and it is a powerful one."
San Francisco Chronicle

"In My Lobotomy Howard Dully tells more of the story that so many found gripping in a National Public Radio broadcast: how his stepmother joined with a doctor willing to slice into his brain with “ice picks” when he was all of 12 years old."
New York Daily News

"[Dully's] memoir is vital and almost too disturbing to bear-a piece of recent history that reads like science fiction… Dully, the only patient to ever request his file, speaks eloquently. It’s a voice to crash a server, and to break your heart.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The value of the book is in the indomitable spirit Dully displays throughout his grueling saga…By coming to grips with his past and shining a light into the dark corners of his medical records, Dully shows that regardless of what happened to his brain, his heart and soul are ferociously strong.”
Chicago-Sun Times

"Plain-spoken, heart wrenching memoir ..."
San Jose Mercury News

"Gut-wrenching memoir by a man who was lobotomized at the age of 12.

Assisted by journalist/novelist Fleming (After Havana, 2003, etc.), Dully recounts a family
tragedy whose Sophoclean proportions he could only sketch in his powerful 2005 broadcast on NPR’s
All Things Considered.

“In 1960,” he writes, “I was given a transorbital, or ‘ice pick’ lobotomy. My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of the American lobotomy, told me he was going to do some ‘tests.’ It took ten minutes and cost two hundred dollars.” Fellow doctors called Freeman’s technique barbaric: an ice pick—like instrument was inserted about three inches into each eye socket and twirled to sever connections from the frontal lobe to the rest of the brain. The procedure was intended to help curb a variety of psychoses by muting emotional responses, but sometimes it irreversibly reduced patients to a childlike state or (in 15% of the operations Freeman performed) killed them outright. Dully’s ten-minute “test” did neither, but in some ways it had a far crueler result, since it didn’t end the unruly behavior that had set his stepmother against him to begin with.

“I spent the next forty years in and out of insane asylums, jails, and halfway houses,” he tells us. “I was homeless, alcoholic, and drug-addicted. I was lost.” From all accounts, there was no excuse for the lobotomy. Dully had never been “crazy,” and his (not very) bad behavior sounds like the typical acting-up of a child in desperate need of affection. His stepmother responded with unrelenting abuse and neglect, his father allowed her to demonize his son and never admitted his complicity in the lobotomy; Freeman capitalized on their monumental dysfunction. It’s a tale of epic horror, and while Dully’s courage in telling it inspires awe, readers are left to speculate about what drove supposedly responsible adults to such unconscionable acts.

A profoundly disturbing survivor’s tale."

"...Hard to put down."
The Record

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307381277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307381279
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Gottlieb on December 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'd heard Howard Dully on NPR before I bought this book and was fascinated.

I almost set it aside because the the first two chapters were slow and monotonous, they read almost like bulleted lists. And then I remembered I was hearing the author's voice and he's been lobotomized.

The book is flat where it ought to be screaming at you. It's factual where it should be rage filled and scientific where it should be sad.

Every so often I had to set this aside because my stomach simply lurched too much.

The story is difficult to read because it's real but the story is compelling. I'm not sure that psychiatrists now aren't doing the same thing by medicating school aged children who irritate their teachers. It's an important read.
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125 of 133 people found the following review helpful By G. Larrow on September 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read a review of this book in my local paper. What prompted me to buy it was the outrage of all those who heard Mr. Dully on NPR, causing their website to crash. Not hearing his intereview, I knew I had to read "his story."

While ultimately one rejoices with Mr. Dully, this is such a painful book to read. One will surely feel outrage towards all those who were involved with the horrors perpetrated against Dully.

Not only a powerful memoir on how people can rise above even the worst scenarios and the indomitability of the human spirit, this book gives a small window into what can happen when "agencies," and other "institutions" come into the fray and take over, and how one's life can be so diabolically altered by just one professional's own bizarre beliefs.

This book will also give one a whole new appreciation for anyone labeled "mentally ill" or "mentally unstable."

This reader hopes Dr. Freeman is rotting in hell.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By 1776 Lady on May 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
The book is an accurate portrayal of this procedure. I photographed it when Dr. Freeman came to the Cherokee, Iowa State Hospital. I made a montage for Dr. Freeman, which he took on the rest of his tour.He "posed" mid-procedure for some of the photos.We had to see a film prior to procedure & were told there would be only "minor" visible effects. In reality, "post surgery", the patients' faces were black & blue over entire face & down through the neck area. Many of these patients were simply "dumped" at the State Hosp. by families financially, physically, unable to care for them at home, or un-willing to. The families had to give consent & were assured of the expected great improvement. Didn't happen..... True, some were seriously mentally disturbed, but, in retrospect I believe many were just Alzheimers afflicted or generally senile. It was incredibly sad to see their bruised faces & their lost, frightened expressions after procedure. A really barbaric event for patients who had no say in what happened to them. They were simply experimental subjects.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Tallystarr on September 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in one 6-hour sitting. It's real, riveting, and heart-wrenching. Howard Dully didn't stand a chance against the odds he faced. The fact that he found the courage to ask the hard question~ Why? ~speaks highly of his nature and spirit. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with the issues of childhood and trying to come to terms with what it all means.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Evil Eyes on October 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a child psychotherapist I work with children who are emotionally disturbed in a special school. I often see how some children fall between the cracks in society and really have noone to pull them out, even clinical social workers as myself. It can be disheartening at times. This memior gives anyone who deals with struggles an opportunity to read about the true feelings of a (I feel) neglected child, and then what became a successful man through his journey after being the victim of a horrific surgery. I am sorry that Howard Dully didn't have someone to pull for him. However, I think that due to this memior more people will open their eyes about how children were treated with behavioral issues back then and how they are treated now. What a riviting look at mental illness. A great read and I encourage Howard to continue writing.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By C.Wallace VINE VOICE on September 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is not a whodunit. We know whodunit. It was Lou Dully, Howard Dully's stepmother. She engineered a lobotomy for twelve-year-old Howard in 1960 because she hated him and found him irritating.

Howard's mother died of cancer when he was five. This death may well have contributed to Howard's less than stellar behavior as a child. Also likely impacting Howard's behavior was his father, Rod, who was a cold, sometimes cruel, man.

In the years before his lobotomy, Howard seems to have been rather slovenly and a bit insensitive. The child probably just needed the love and affection that his parents wouldn't give him; instead, he got an ice pick in the brain. If Howard "needed" a lobotomy, so did the majority of the country.

Actually performing the surgery was Walter Freeman. He performed some 2,500 (one source says 3,500) lobotomies from 1936-1967. It is a shameful reflection on the medical community/the government/society that Freeman could slice brains for so long.

Many of Freeman's patients (the book indicates fifteen percent) died as a result of the operation. Many survived as "vegetables." Others lived out their lives in a passive state, not "vegetables," but unable to survive independently. Many showed no long-range change in the behavior that had led to the lobotomy. Enough showed improvement in their (usually depressed or aggressive) behavior to lend credibility to the procedure.

The lobotomy severs the connection between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. This seems to block the development of strong emotions that can lead to depression, defiance, and aggression.

After the operation, Howard drifted about for decades.
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