The bestselling author of Intern and Doctored tells the story of the thing that makes us tick
For centuries, the human heart seemed beyond our understanding: an inscrutable shuddering mass that was somehow the driver of emotion and the seat of the soul. As the cardiologist and bestselling author Sandeep Jauhar shows in Heart: A History, it was only recently that we demolished age-old taboos and devised the transformative procedures that have changed the way we live.
Deftly alternating between key historical episodes and his own work, Jauhar tells the colorful and little-known story of the doctors who risked their careers and the patients who risked their lives to know and heal our most vital organ. He introduces us to Daniel Hale Williams, the African American doctor who performed the world’s first open heart surgery in Gilded Age Chicago. We meet C. Walton Lillehei, who connected a patient’s circulatory system to a healthy donor’s, paving the way for the heart-lung machine. And we encounter Wilson Greatbatch, who saved millions by inventing the pacemaker—by accident. Jauhar deftly braids these tales of discovery, hubris, and sorrow with moving accounts of his family’s history of heart ailments and the patients he’s treated over many years. He also confronts the limits of medical technology, arguing that future progress will depend more on how we choose to live than on the devices we invent. Affecting, engaging, and beautifully written, Heart: A History takes the full measure of the only organ that can move itself.
Cardiologist Jauhar (Intern) moves beautifully between "dual tracks" of "learning about the heart... but also what was in my heart," with passages of memoir counterbalancing a lay-reader-friendly history of the development of cardiac medical technology. Covering enough physiology to make scientific details easily understood, Jahaur emphasizes how brave, desperate, and sometimes foolhardy experiments led to important developments, such as the heart-lung machine, which allows doctors to perform heart surgeries that take longer than a few minutes without causing brain damage. Alongside these medical success stories, Jauhar shares personal encounters with heart disease, through the deaths of family members and through his own diagnosis with coronary blockages. Jauhar achieves a balanced tone throughout, sharing profound admiration for what can be accomplished by treating the heart as a machine, while also urging the reader, and the medical community, not to undervalue of the significance of the "emotional heart." To this end, he points to the fraught emotional dynamics of providing devices like defibrillators that can prolong life but also provoke traumatic stress and constant fear in the patients who use them. Throughout, Jauhar is thoughtful, self-reflective, and profoundly respectful of doctors and patients alike; readers will respond by opening their own hearts a little bit, to both grief and wonder. 22 b&w illus.