Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul

Brandy Schillace. Simon & Schuster, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982113-77-3
Medical historian Schillace (Death’s Summer Coat) delivers a fascinating portrait of neurosurgeon Robert J. White (1926–2017), who performed the first transplant of one monkey’s head onto another’s body in 1970 (the monkey survived for “almost nine days before the body rejected the head”) and dreamed of performing the same procedure for humans suffering from multiple organ failure. Schillace explores White’s deep Catholic faith and outsized ambitions (he ironically called himself “Humble Bob” ), and contextualizes his experiments with lucid discussions of the primitive state of American medicine in the 1950s and how Cold War tensions fueled an “inner space” race between U.S. and Soviet doctors to perform the first human head transplant. White’s determination to prove that “the mind could outlive the body” contributed to breakthroughs in brain cooling techniques for the treatment of spinal cord injuries and head trauma, Schillace notes, even as his experiments led to highly publicized showdowns with animal rights organizations. Schillace explains the medical nuances of White’s surgeries without too much gruesome detail, and her lyrical prose and psychological insights keep the pages turning. Readers will be riveted by this story of how White tried “to stretch the limits of what science could do.” (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/21/2020
Release date: 03/02/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-7971-2131-4
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