Book Summary: Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich Book Cover

Patient H.M. is a non-fiction book written by Luke Dittrich that delves into the life of Henry Molaison, a man who suffered from severe epilepsy and underwent a risky surgery in the hopes of curing his condition. The surgery left him with profound memory loss, but it also provided scientists with a unique opportunity to study the brain and its functions. The book explores the impact of Henry’s surgery on his life and the lives of those around him, as well as the broader implications of his story for our understanding of memory and the brain.

The first chapter of the book introduces readers to Henry Molaison, a man who lived with severe epilepsy for most of his life. Despite numerous surgeries and treatments, Henry’s seizures continued to worsen, leaving him with significant cognitive impairments. In 1953, at the age of 27, Henry underwent a risky surgery that involved removing much of his hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory. The surgery was successful in stopping his seizures, but it also left him with profound memory loss.

Chapter 2: The Science of Memory

In the second chapter, Dittrich provides readers with a brief overview of the science of memory, including the role of the hippocampus in the formation and retrieval of memories. He also discusses the work of prominent neuroscientists such as Sir Francis Galton and Charles Sherrington, who made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain and its functions.

Chapter 3: The Man Who Couldn’t Remember

The third chapter of the book focuses on the impact of Henry’s surgery on his life and the lives of those around him. Despite his memory loss, Henry was able to live relatively independently, with the help of his wife and caregivers. However, he struggled with basic tasks such as cooking and cleaning, and he was often unable to recognize even close friends and family members. As he aged, his memory continued to deteriorate, and he eventually became completely dependent on others for his care.

Chapter 4: The Brain Bazaar

In the fourth chapter, Dittrich takes readers behind the scenes of the scientific community in the mid-20th century, where researchers were eager to study Henry’s unique brain. Despite his impairments, Henry was able to perform simple tasks and respond to basic commands, making him a valuable subject for research. Scientists from all over the world came to study him, and his case helped to advance our understanding of the brain and its functions in significant ways.

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Chapter 5: The Lost Mariner

The fifth chapter of the book explores the impact of Henry’s story on the broader public. His case was widely publicized in the media, and he became something of a celebrity among scientists and the general public alike. However, his fame also came at a cost, as he was often objectified and treated as little more than a curiosity. Despite the many advances in neuroscience that his case made possible, Henry himself remained largely unknown and unseen.


Overall, Patient H.M. is a fascinating and thought-provoking book that explores the complex interplay between science, medicine, and human experience. Through his detailed account of Henry Molaison’s life and the impact of his surgery on his own life and the broader scientific community, Dittrich raises important questions about the nature of memory, the limits of medical intervention, and the role of the individual in scientific research. Whether you’re a neuroscience enthusiast or simply someone who is interested in the history of science and medicine, Patient H.M. is a must-read.

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