In the summer of 1953 neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville performed a ground-breaking operation on a 27-year-old epileptic patient named Henry Molaison. The operation helped control Molaison’s intractable seizures, but it also left him with a short-term memory of just thirty seconds. The story of Patient H.M., as he came to be known, is the story of how we came to understand memory, and one of the most significant in the history of modern medicine.
Scoville’s grandson, award-winning journalist Luke Dittrich, takes us from the gleaming laboratory analysing Molaison’s disembodied brain, to the archives of the decrepit New-England asylum where his grandfather first developed a taste for human experimentation. Dittrich’s rich, kaleidoscopic investigation delves into the grim secrets of his own family, and reveals how the bright future of modern neuroscience has dark roots in the forgotten history of psychosurgery, raising ethical questions that echo into the present day.