The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

Sam Kean. Little, Brown, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-49650-6

Kean (The Bastard Brigade) delivers a fascinating survey of crimes committed by scientists, all of whom shared the desire to “do science too well, to the exclusion of their humanity.” For many, the road toward ignominy began gradually, as their initial moral compromises snowballed out of control to further a perceived greater good. For example, the title character, American neurologist Walter Freeman, developed the transorbital lobotomy, a procedure that was initially performed with an icepick. Freeman hoped to find a simple, surgical way for treating the mentally ill; instead, his brutal and unsuccessful method was used on those with only mild symptoms. Kean’s wide scope includes Nazi doctors, whose sadistic experiments yielded life-saving information on conditions such as hypothermia, and rival paleontologists, whose fossil-hunting conflicts devolved into fraud and violence. Kean argues convincingly that what makes his subjects unique in the annals of crime is that they did wrong “for data—to augment our understanding of the world.” This engrossing look at crimes often committed by otherwise moral people deserves a wide readership. Agent: Rick Broadhead, Rick Broadhead & Assoc. (July)