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Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M. Hardcover – May 14, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0465031597 ISBN-10: 9780465031597

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Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M. + In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind + The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780465031597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031597
  • ASIN: 0465031595
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Wall Street Journal
“A remarkable blend of biography, memoir and scientific history… ‘Permanent Present Tense’ stands as the definitive story of Molaison. Ms. Corkin’s narrative is rich with tales of his life, from his happy childhood to his painful decline in later years…. A great book…”

"A surprisingly emotional read. From its historical survey of the 20th-century psychosurgery movement—the most grisly episodes of which involved the now-infamous prefrontal lobotomy—to its somewhat procedural recounting of Molaison’s final days, the book repeatedly challenges the reader to decide how one should judge the checkered history of brain research and, in particular, the unique case of Molaison.”

Washington Post
“Corkin expertly uses Henry’s case to illuminate major trends in memory research.”

The Guardian
“In her new book, Corkin pays tribute to a much-missed friend, as well as offering lucid accounts of the neuropsychological discoveries he made possible…This fine and moving book reveals as much about the limitations of neuropsychology as about the scope of human memory”

London Review of Books
“Corkin’s lucid, well-organised telling of Henry’s story merges intimate case history with an account of the current scientific understanding and how it was reached.”

The Nation
“A scientifically exciting and personally moving portrait of a man whose life and brain ended up being devoted to the science of memory.”

The Independent
“Her warm, engaging book explains the science in a way accessible to scientists and laypeople alike.”

The Scientist
“A scientific and human monument, touching in its regard for the man (he had a sense of humor, as does she) and breathtaking in its detailed account of the discoveries about the localization and coordination of different aspects of memory made possible by refinements in brain-scanning technology and by Molaison’s untiring cooperation.”

Times Higher Education Supplement
“Corkin offers a comprehensive and engaging review of how the field of neuroscience came to learn what we know about memory, all woven into the touching biography of one man…Above all else, the book is a tribute to one man and his contribution to science…We can only hope that future patients are as generous and good-natured, and the researchers studying them as talented as Corkin.”

The Guardian Weekly
"Corkin has written a compelling memoir of that bond between scientist and subject, Permanent Present Tense, a relationship that Henry once described neatly: "It's a funny thing - you just live and learn. I'm living and you're learning.”

“Corkin, who worked with HM for half a century, has now written Permanent Present Tense. She has woven her memories of her experi¬mental and personal dealings with HM into a panoramic history of the past 60 years of the neuropsychology of memory. The result is superb. Because she was such an integral part of this history, Permanent Present Tense is also her intellectual autobiography.”

“A touching yet unsentimental glimpse of [Corkin's] 46-year connection to this ‘pleasant, engaging, docile man’ and his tragedy, interests, and experience of everyday life. At the same time, Corkin skillfully uses stories about his experiences and capabilities to illustrate some of the scientific principles underlying memory. She also offers a comprehensible historical sketch of the study of memory and the burgeoning field of neuroscience—from the dubious and gruesome practice of prefrontal lobotomy to the development of powerful brainimaging techniques…Sadly, Molaison’s condition prevented him from ever fully grasping the importance of his contributions to science and humanity. Corkin’s compelling account in Permanent Present Tense should help ensure that he will remain an unforgettable figure in the continuing saga of our quest to understand the workings of the mind.”

"[A] gripping book.... No one was better suited to be [H.M.'s] memoirist than Corkin."

Science News
“Part memoir, part scientific history, Corkin’s book weaves together tales of working with Molaison and a vivid backstory on the scientific approach, taking readers through 60-plus years of memory research.”

“All readers, however, will be struck by the impact of case H. M. on medicine, psychology, and neuroscience, and they will be fascinated by Henry, the man behind the initials.”

Library Journal
“Corkin’s supportive and sympathetic relationship with Molaison humanizes her clearly expressed…accounts of research on brain functions and anatomy.”

Kirkus Reviews
"Both a compassionate biography and a lucid account of the advances in neuroscience made possible through one man’s personal tragedy."

Daniel L. Schacter, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
“The amnesic patient H.M. is arguably the most important case in the history of neuropsychology. Nobody knew him better than Suzanne Corkin, who has written an engaging and insightful account of H.M.’s memory loss that combines personal stories with accessible discussions of memory research. Just as important, Permanent Present Tense presents a sympathetic portrait of the person named Henry Molaison.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
“A fascinating account of perhaps the most important case study in the history of neuroscience, rich with implications for our understanding of the brain, our experience, and what it means to be human.”

Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences
“Drawing on her unique investigations over more than four decades, neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin relates the fascinating story of how one severely amnesic man transformed our understanding of mind, brain, and memory.”

Philip A. Sharp, Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
“Suzanne Corkin has written an enjoyable and sensitive story of H.M.’s life and what it has taught us about memory. Millions of patients have been the source of advances in science but few are celebrated as individuals. We learn through H.M. that ‘Our brains are like hotels with eclectic arrays of guests—homes to different kinds of memory, each of which occupies its own suite of rooms.’”

David Eagleman, neuroscientist and New York Times–bestselling author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
“The best way to understand memory is to witness the ways it can disassemble. In this remarkable book, Suzanne Corkin gifts us with a rare insider’s view, revealing how a man who could not remember his immediate past so profoundly influenced science’s future.”

About the Author

Suzanne Corkin is Professor of Neuroscience, Emerita, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Co-editor of nine books and author of numerous scientific publications, Corkin lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

More About the Author

Suzanne Corkin is Professor of Neuroscience, Emerita in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Corkin's research over the last 48 years has focused on the study of patients with neurological disease, with the goal of linking specific cognitive processes, particularly memory, to discrete brain circuits.

Corkin also examined the cognitive neuroscience of healthy aging, combining behavioral testing with magnetoencephalography, fMRI, and MRI methods to characterize the neurobiological and information processing mechanisms underlying decreased cognitive control in healthy aging. She is well known for her investigation of the famous amnesic patient, H.M., whom she met in 1962 and studied until his death in 2008. Corkin's book, Permanent Present Tense, was published in May 2013.

Corkin is a Fellow of the Montreal Neurological Institute, the American Psychological Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received the David Wallace Medal from the Australian Association of Gerontology, the Smith College Medal, a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, and the Baltes Distinguished Research Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, Division on Aging. She received the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Undergraduate Advising Award in 2011

Customer Reviews

This is a very interesting book.
victoria f.
This is a truly remarkable book about the most famous patient in neuroscience - Patient H.M. - written by his bona-fide scientific guardian Dr. Suzanne Corkin .
The Explorer
I would not only recommend this book to people who read about neurology but to anyone interested in well written and compassionate writing.
Patrick J. McGill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Jenni Ogden on May 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
'Why Sir, if you have but one book with you upon a journey let it be a book of science. When you read through a book of entertainment, you know it, and it can do no more for you, but a book of science is inexhaustible'.
This quote of Samuel Johnson's was recorded by his Scottish friend, James Boswell, in his book, 'Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides', published in 1785, a year after Johnson's death.

Suzanne Corkin's new biography of Henry Molaison, the man with no memory, is a fitting example of Johnson's wise quote. 'Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of Amnesic Patient, H.M.' (Basic Books, New York, 2013), has been eagerly anticipated since the news leaked out that Dr. Corkin had begun writing the life story of her most famous patient, H.M., shortly after his death in December, 2008. Corkin met H.M. in 1962 on his only visit to the Montreal Neurological Institute. Her supervisor, Dr. Brenda Milner, a neuropsychologist, and neurosurgeon, Dr. Wilder Penfield, both from the Montreal Neurological Institute, were the first to realize that the experimental brain operation performed by William Scoville on 27-year-old H.M. in an effort to cure his epilepsy, had rendered him amnesic. His seizures were almost vanquished, but he would never again be able to make new conscious (declarative) memories.

In 1966, at the age of 40, H.M. --as he was known until after his death--made his first of 55 visits to the Clinical Research Center at MIT in Boston, not far from where he lived in Hartford, Connecticut. Corkin was now a research scientist at MIT and "inherited" H.M., partly because of the ready access of MIT to Hartford. In Dr. Corkin's lab, Henry was the subject of thousands of experiments on memory and other cognitive abilities. When H.M.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By The Explorer on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a truly remarkable book about the most famous patient in neuroscience - Patient H.M. - written by his bona-fide scientific guardian Dr. Suzanne Corkin . All students of Neuroscience know about H.M. and his anterograde amnesia due to the surgical removal of his hippocampi, but there are much more fascinating details to be learned!

For example, did you know that H.M.'s amygdala were also completely removed? That he could still express a full range of emotions without the amygdala, but he had deficits in judging internal states such as hunger, thirst, and pain? Did you know that H.M. also suffered retrograde amnesia that extended backwards to almost 15 years before the surgery? H.M. was sometimes able to learn and remember certain information after his surgery, which surprised Dr. Corkin and prompted her to conduct further experiments to find out the causes. Dr. Corkin's research investigated not only the declarative memory deficits of H.M., but probed the emotion, sleep, motor skills, priming effects, and various other intricacies of learning and memory. In the book, Dr. Corkin goes into comprehensive details of her experiments, complete with the rationale and the scientific background for her experimental designs. One can learn a tremendous amount about memory research and neuroscience in general just by reading this book.

Overall, this is a fascinating read. The narrative is well-written and engaging; I read the whole book cover-to-cover at once. My only minor criticisms are that 1) there could be better graphs and diagrams, and I'd appreciate more high-quality photos of the main star, Henry Molaison; and 2) names of collaborating researchers and scientists are selectively mentioned or omitted, it would be better to either mention all the names (instead of eg.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brain on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Memory is our most prized human treasure. It defines our sense of self, and our ability to navigate the world. It defines our relationships with others - for good or ill - and is so important to survival that our gilled ancestors bear the secret of memory etched in their DNA. If you asked someone over 50 to name the things they most fear about getting older, losing one's memory would be near the top of that list. There is so much worry over Alzheimer's disease, the memory thief, that it is easy to forget that our modern understanding of memory is still quite young, less than one, very special lifespan. H.M. was the pseudonym of Henry Molaison, a man who was destined to change the way we think about the brain. Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient H.M. is a touching, comprehensive view of his life through the eyes of a researcher who also, in a sense, became part of his family. Read complete review here:
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Bennett on July 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read about amnesia patient H.B. (Henry Molaison) for a long time and was very interested when the psychologist who was able to work with him for over 4 decades would be writing a biography of him. I have cognitive memory issues of my own and though if I could read about how he compensated for his missing memory to live to over 80 years-old, it could be beneficial to my own understanding of memory. While the author Corkin did include many human elements in describing the long and well-researched life of H.B. after his brain surgery left him with permanent amnesia, she is a professor and writes at a level that her college and graduate students would read at including many medical and neuropsychological terms that were a little hard to understand even though I am a college graduate and have had some experience in grad school. I think this book is written more for the memory researcher or psychoanalyst who wants more information about the most famous and well-studied brain in the world up to the present time and so much for the general layperson with a casual interest who might find the story of H.B.'s life interesting and compelling for the human elements. I would recommend this book for anyone looking to increase their understanding of memory and what regions of the brain do what for different cognitive processes in a semi-professional way, but it will be a fairly hard read for anyone who is not really into the subject and committed to working through the professional lingo peppered throughout the book.
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