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A MAN AFTER HIS OWN HEART

Charles Siebert, Author
Charles Siebert, Author . Crown $23.95 (274p) ISBN 978-0-609-60221-8
Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Paperback - 274 pages - 978-0-609-80260-1
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This compelling and complex narrative is based on a New York Times Magazine story by Siebert (Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral ) that recounted his involvement with a team of surgeons who "harvested" a human heart from a recently dead person and transplanted it into a waiting recipient. What has evolved from that essay is a combination memoir, biography, science essay, medical history, social study, mythological exploration; above all, it is an excellent piece of journalism. Beginning with a scene in which a sleepless Siebert lies in bed listening to his "heart's tracks" and contemplating his mortality, he ranges widely among topics, including his father's heart ailments and death, Siebert's own heart-based panic attacks and his troubled relationship with his father, a short history of public anatomies from the 16th century to today and, finally, his involvement with the heart harvest, which culminated in an assisting surgeon placing Siebert's hand onto the beating, transplanted heart. Uniting his subjects is his fight against the idea that a greater medical knowledge about the workings of the heart "has led to a diminished appreciation of its abiding metaphysical significance." Siebert wonderfully illustrates how the heart does not serve as the seat of emotions, but rather as "the brain's subtle antagonist, its emotional and psychological counterpoise," and that the mystique of the heart "now requires even newer and better metaphors in order to be conveyed." Best of all is Siebert's exploration throughout of the subtle paradox of "the burden on the heart... which the very life that a heart allows brings." (Apr.)

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