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

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

by Sam Kean


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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on July 12, 2022


Notes From Your Bookseller

The Icepick Surgeon is a tale of doctors gone amok, crossing the line from experiment to crime, often wrong for all well-intentioned reasons, and what these stories reveal about historic times in which they took place. Sam Kean is an eclectic writer with an affinity for scientific subjects and their weird and darker paths, and he has an inimitable knack for transforming this passionate interest into astonishing story, punctuated with humor and rife with the absurd. 

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold history of science's darkest secrets, “a fascinating book [that] deserves a wide audience” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

Science is a force for good in the world—at least usually. But sometimes, when obsession gets the better of scientists, they twist a noble pursuit into something sinister. Under this spell, knowledge isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—no matter the cost. Bestselling author Sam Kean tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process.

The Icepick Surgeon masterfully guides the reader across two thousand years of history, beginning with Cleopatra’s dark deeds in ancient Egypt. The book reveals the origins of much of modern science in the transatlantic slave trade of the 1700s, as well as Thomas Edison’s mercenary support of the electric chair and the warped logic of the spies who infiltrated the Manhattan Project. But the sins of science aren’t all safely buried in the past. Many of them, Kean reminds us, still affect us today. We can draw direct lines from the medical abuses of Tuskegee and Nazi Germany to current vaccine hesitancy, and connect icepick lobotomies from the 1950s to the contemporary failings of mental-health care. Kean even takes us into the future, when advanced computers and genetic engineering could unleash whole new ways to do one another wrong.

Unflinching, and exhilarating to the last page, The Icepick Surgeon fuses the drama of scientific discovery with the illicit thrill of a true-crime tale. With his trademark wit and precision, Kean shows that, while science has done more good than harm in the world, rogue scientists do exist, and when we sacrifice morals for progress, we often end up with neither.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316496513
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 07/12/2022
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 821,503
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bastard Brigade, Caesar’s Last Breath (the Guardian’s Science Book of the Year), The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, The Violinist’s Thumb, and The Disappearing Spoon. He is also a two-time finalist for the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. His work has appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and he has been featured on NPR’s Radiolab, All Things Considered, Science Friday, and Fresh Air. His podcast, The Disappearing Spoon, debuted at #1 on the iTunes science charts. Kean lives in Washington DC.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Cleopatra's Legacy 3

Introduction 6

1 Piracy: The Buccaneer Biologist 11

2 Slavery: The Corruption of the Flycatcher 33

3 Grave-Robbing: Jekyll & Hyde, Hunter Sc Knox 59

4 Murder: The Professor and the Janitor 79

5 Animal Cruelty: The War of the Currents 96

6 Sabotage: The Bone Wars 122

7 Oath-Breaking: Ethically Impossible 145

8 Ambition: Surgery of the Soul 174

9 Espionage: The Variety Act 201

10 Torture: The White Whale 229

11 Malpractice: Sex, Power, and Money 254

12 Fraud: Superwoman 283

Conclusion 300

Appendix: The Future Of Crime 307

Acknowledgments 323

Works Cited 325

Index 349

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