Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted
A major new biography of the doctor who invented modern surgery. Brilliant, driven, but haunted by demons, William Stewart Halsted took surgery from a horrific, dangerous practice to what we now know as a lifesaving art. Halsted was born to wealth and privilege in New York City in the mid-1800s. He attended the finest schools, but he was a mediocre student. His academic interests blossomed at medical school and he quickly became a celebrated surgeon. Experimenting with cocaine as a local anesthetic, he became addicted. He was hospitalized and treated with morphine to control his craving for cocaine. For the remaining 40 years of his life he was addicted to both drugs. Halsted resurrected his career at Johns Hopkins, where he became the first chief of surgery. Among his accomplishments, he introduced the residency training system, the use of sterile gloves, the first successful hernia repair, radical mastectomy, fine silk sutures, and anatomically correct surgical technique. Halsted is without doubt the father of modern surgery, and his eccentric behavior, unusual lifestyle, and counterintuitive productivity in the face of lifelong addiction make his story unusually compelling. Gerald Imber, a renowned surgeon himself, evokes Halsted’s extraordinary life and achievements and places them squarely in the historical and social context of the late 19th century. The result is an illuminating biography of a complex and troubled man, whose genius we continue to benefit from today.
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