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The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart Hardcover – January 18, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The brothers Amidon refer to their book as a "biography of this remarkable machine" and it's a fitting description for such a tidy volume. Chapters begin with entertaining and illustrative historical tales, before reviewing the roles that people have assigned to the heart, as a metaphor for what is "most essential in a human being" and the place "in which Jesus Christ dwelled" (from 399 BCE, an era that also looked heavenward to explain the myocardial infarction). The authors liberally sprinkle their effort with charm and literary allusions, to The Scarlet Letter, Measure for Measure, (where love is "a sort of cardiac shock") and other texts. In fact, The Sublime Engine is that rare book: so entertaining that its ability to educate seems effortless. The authors turn the heart into a beloved friend for whom we should care desperately; readers may in fact be more inspired to "start jogging and eat fewer cheeseburgers" by Amidon (author of Human Capital) and Amidon (a practicing cardiologist) than by their own GP, which makes a final tale of two very different men who suffer heart attacks, and the disparity of care that they receive, even more, yes, heartbreaking. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

As the body�s main power source and traditionally presumed seat of emotions, the human heart has inspired more natural philosophy and literature than any other organ. The brothers and coauthors Amidon, one a novelist, the other a cardiologist, call their unusual collaboration a biography because it presents a multifaceted picture of the heart�s influences on mythology, science, and popular culture through the ages. In six lyrically written chapters, they trace humanity�s perennial fascination with the heart through the eyes of history�s greatest artists and medical explorers, beginning with the Greeks and fancifully ending with a peek into the future of cardiological innovation. Particularly attention-grabbing are the stories of groundbreaking researchers, such as Sir William Harvey, who discovered the circulatory system, and German internist Werner Forssmann, who proved the value of catheterization by inserting a tube in his own heart. The only shortcoming of this fascinating and engaging survey is the Amidons� admitted neglect of the Asian perspective, but the end result should appeal to both poets and physicians. --Carl Hays

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605295841
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605295848
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,613,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Weissman on January 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Novelist Stephen Amidon and his physician brother collaborated on this look at the changing concepts of the heart in Western literature/culture and our growing medical knowledge of the heart. There's nothing really wrong with the book except that it is rather superficial and that it spends too much time on short fictions intended to illustrate how the heart has been perceived (and, at the end, predict how hearts and heart disease touch two men of very different classes and economic resources in the imagined future).

The good parts: chronological organization, clear short presentation of how the heart has been understood literally and metaphorically and scientifically during the last few millenia and a short way into the future. The clarity of the writing. The accuracy and broad range of information covered.

The bad parts; not enough about any one thing, and nothing fresh if you have a fairly good general education - the only material I wasn't familiar with is the stuff about the Inquisition certifying certain apparent miracles in the hearts of dead nuns. The stories, which just didn't work for me as fiction took up space that could have been spent on more medical or scientific writing or on more exposition of how the heart was understood at the time.

Perhaps I expect too much, but in a world of medical writing that holds Oliver Sacks and Lewis Thomas and even Berton Rouche, I know there can be more. And if you want a little bit of intellectual history combined with some history of science and a dollop of illustrative fictions, this is the only book around. Only you can say if that's what you want. The authors achieved what they wanted. But I wanted more.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The SUBLIME ENGINE" is a unique little biography of the human heart--spanning from Ancient Greece to modern day and beyond. The authors, a team of brothers, combine their expertise to create a comprehensive look at the heart throughout history. There's medical history here as well as a look at the social meaning of 'the Heart' via literature and religious icons. For the most part, the medical history is extremely interesting and well written. However, the social discussion can become a bit tedious at times. For example: there are pages of interpretive essays on Frankenstein and the Scarlet Letter that seriously interrupted the flow of the book and caused me to lose interest. The book is quite a short read, overall (just under 250 small pages) and should prove unique and entertaining to most readers, even with passing interest. B+
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Format: Hardcover
I would like to give this book a good review. I wish I could. The theme had the potential to generate quite a compelling argument-- the heart as a metaphorical and medical monument deserves literary exploration. However, the thesis of this book is underwhelming at best, if it can be located at all. The ending encourages neither profundity nor sublimity; indeed, as a literary sublime engine, I was not moved by this book in any way whatsoever. In fact, the most disappointing aspect of this book is the conclusion. A conclusion that relies on the quality of health care and an incrimination of today's youth for their consumption of saturated fats? Really? In a book about the sublimity of the heart? Call me a romantic, but I wanted more than the brothers Amidon to play the blame game.

Not only does this book take the easy road, but it provides a superficial analysis of the heart in literary fiction (which lacks internal citation!), an analysis which never provides adequate transition into the scientific evidence presented from the medical field (evidence which also lacks internal citation!). An undergraduate course in literary analysis may have helped these authors to better understand the ways critical readings can be performed on literature and how transitions can be used to guide readers between ideas. Case in point: the author(s) provide an analysis of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, an analysis that presupposes essentialist rhetoric and presents many problematic readings of the female heart. Writer, editor, and publisher: FAIL!

Moreover, the bibliography relies so heavily on secondary sources that I find it curious this passed muster at the publisher. Honestly, I expected Wikipedia to appear in the bibliography!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a unique conjunction of literary criticism and history of medical science concerning the symbolism and physiology of the human heart. Brothers Stephen and Thomas Amidon are published authors in the very different fields of literature and cardiology. In this book, they combine forces to present a literary analysis of the history of cardiology. The book is comprised of 6 chapters, snapshots in time ordered chronologically from Ancient Greece to a possible near future. Each chapter begins with a fanciful narrative of a possible clinical encounter, then continues with a critical analysis of heart symbolism in representative literature of the time, filled out with some discussion of contemporary medical understanding of the physiology of the heart.

This book will probably be of more interest to fans of literary criticism than readers seeking to deepen their understanding of how the heart works. It delves fairly deeply into analysis of heart symbolism in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, and discusses some of the challenges that had to be overcome before cardiac surgery could be contemplated, but provides only basic information about our current understanding of how the heart works.
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