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The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution Paperback – March 4, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The 1920s, the era of Kennedy's devastatingly good book, were a time when, though thousands may have felt trapped in the wrong bodies, the word transsexual was unknown. For such persons, leading double lives and being unable to trust anyone for fear of exposure involved "silence and subterfuge." Lives could "be destroyed by one stray rumor." Yet back then, Michael Dillon (nee Laura Dillon) and Roberta Cowell (ne Robert Cowell) risked everything to change their genders. In mesmerizing detail after mesmerizing detail, Kennedy describes the deception, the secrets, the endless humiliations, and the almost unimaginable effort that went into not only Dillon's and Cowell's daily lives, which essentially involved living a lie during every waking moment, but also the struggles they had to endure to find someone who understood what they were going through and, most important, could alter their lives--that is, perform sex change operations. In the early 1950s, Christine Jorgensen became known as the first transsexual (male-to-female), but Man-Made Man makes clear that that distinction belongs to Michael Dillon (female-to-male). Novelist Kennedy's literary chops serve her well in this fascinating and heartbreaking social history and tale of two lost souls, for it is as absorbing and powerful as any fiction. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Oddly mesmerizing, as close to Shakespearean tragedy as you can come with the words tube pedicle and mass of cartilage in your book. It's Romiette and Julio.” ―Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

“A wild read…an absorbing look at a century of medical breakthroughs that allow people to change noses--or genitalia--to match their identities. A–” ―Entertainment Weekly

“Replete with obsession, identity crises, and personal recreations…If you're looking for intrigue, this book is fairly dripping with it.” ―Washington Blade

“Mesmerizing…Novelist Kennedy's literary chops serve her well in this fascinating and heartbreaking social history and tale of two lost souls, for it is as absorbing and powerful as any fiction.” ―Booklist

“Part biography, part cultural history, The First Man-Made Man is a dramatic, revelatory narrative that brightly illuminates the psyche of the first female-to male.” ―Chicago Sun Times

“The First Man-Made Man is oddly mesmerizing, as close to Shakespearean tragedy as you can come with the words 'tube pedicle' and 'mass of cartilage' in your book. It's Romiette and Julio.” ―New York Times

“Sheds welcome light on the changes in society's attitudes and in scientific thinking about gender.” ―Kirkus

“An enlightening tour of how mid-century science conceptualized gender, hormones and transsexual surgery...an entertaining and informative popular history.” ―Publishers Weekly

“This book is pure brilliance-the research, the execution, the wonder and heartbreak.” ―Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and The Great Failure

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159691016X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596910164
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,025,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although I am involved in the trans community- both personally and professionally- and I am also a published writer, I generally am not impressed by the "trans biography" genre. Maybe because, although transitioning is a pretty big journey to an individual and in most cases requires a good bit of soul-searching and courage, you really have to do more than change your sex to make yourself a worthy subject for a good biography in my opinion.

Dillon however, is a man who deserves it (a film too, hopefully, but they'd better cast a man to play him, this habit of women playing transitioned men just doesn't do them justice). Not only was Michael the first to transition to male before the word "transexual" existed, before Christine Jorgensen came out, but he lived the life of a legend- outfitting the oxfords womens row team in mens uniforms and rowing them upstream, dodging bombs and putting out fires during the blitz, publishing the first book on the medical ethics of treating transexuality with hormones, becoming an MD and performing an illegal operation on another transexual, working on ships crossing the globe for months at sea, giving up all worldly possessions and fleeing to the cliffs of Tibet to live as the only westerner at the hellish Rizong monastery...trans or not, this guys life is as exciting as Hemingway's, and he deserves his place in the annals of modern western history. I was surprised I'd never heard of him before.

One thing I did not like was that the author sort of gave him this "pathetic" flavor, which is commonly projected onto the lives of trans people. "Poor Michael Dillon, he just wanted to be normal and he never got peace and his penis was weird and he never got laid".
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most fascinating books I've ever read. Kennedy manages to take on a variety of subjects and plot lines than in another writer's hands could come across as, well, callow or, as Dillon feared his entire adult life, exploitive. The heartbreakingly story of Michael Dillon's continuous quest for acceptance and identity, whether it be gender driven or spiritual, is deftly portrayed by this generous and brilliant writer. Even in the most curious aspects of this story, Kennedy remains a historian, never giving judgment, but simply reporting the complicated facts of the story in a beautifully written narrative. Pagan has written several outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction (I especially love The Exes), but this is truly a masterpiece from one of the most original and exciting writers of our time. I can't wait to see what she tackles next.
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By D on December 29, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. The world first man made penis and the life of the poor man who was blessed with it. it opens history that most transgender people have never dreamed happened. And the truly sad story of the first female to male sexual reassignment surgury. Highly recommended dianefromcarroll@yahoo.com
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Format: Hardcover
The First Man-Made Man is a remarkable, poignant personal story that Pagan Kennedy has skillfully woven in with the medical, scientific and social history of the mid-20th century. Anybody who's ever felt hemmed in by gender roles will be able to relate to Laura Dillon's dissatisfactions with being a girl in pre-WWII England, and Kennedy's compassionate writing carries us along the rest of the bizarre trip.

The story is full of rich, novelistic details: Laura's mother dying giving birth to her; Laura living as a man in a garage putting out fires during the Blitz; Laura/Michael's surgeon figuring out how to construct a penis; Buddhist monks' attitudes toward members of "the third sex." It's impossible not to race through this fascinating book, but it lingers in the mind long after.
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Format: Paperback
They say that truth is stranger that fiction and this book proves it. How in 1940s London two of the first sex reassignments
could find each other and have their lives intertwined is almost beyond believe. And for those interested in the history of transsexualism this book fills in a lot of details you will not find other places, for instance, Laura/Michael Dillon was the first natal born female on whom phalloplasty was attempted. I read this book in one sitting on the plane to S.F. to have surgery with DR. O.
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Format: Hardcover
The First Man-Made Man is enthralling, as gripping as the most powerful novel, written with exquisite authority and mastery. Rich in fascinating biographical, sociological and medical research, it's as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller. I was hooked from the first page and couldn't put this gorgeous book down, reading it breathlessly. The characters leap from the page, extraordinary and courageous. Pagan Kennedy takes a subject that might, in less capable hands, be sensationalized, and instead turns it into a profoundly human and moving story about yearning and loneliness, and an intense, existential quest for identity. The restless, searching spirit of Michael Dillon, brave and reviled, is captured vividly. He emerges as a vulnerable person of tremendous grace and dignity. From the posh halls of Oxford to the back of a dingy garage, from a ship sailing across the open seas to a remote Tibetan Buddhist monastery, First Man-Made Man catapults the reader into one memorable man's wild, often hostile, world. This poetic adventure is unforgettable.
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