The Sublime Engine A Biography of the Human Heart

Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon, MD

Rodale Books



256 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and
artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as
the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs.

In this lyrical history, a critically acclaimed novelist and a leading cardiologist—who happen to be brothers—draw upon history, science, religion, popular culture, and literature to illuminate all of the heart's physical and figurative chambers. Divided into six sections, The Sublime Engine traces the heart's sway over the human imagination from the time of the Egyptians and ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, up to the modern era and beyond. More than just a work of scientific or cultural history, it is a biography of the single most important symbol of our humanity. Erudite, witty, and unexpected, The Sublime Engine makes the heart leap off the page.


Praise for The Sublime Engine

"What a gem! Sparkling, multi-faceted, brilliant in every sense of the word."—Joe McGinniss, author of Never Enough

"I cannot imagine a more enjoyable and informative, if not mesmerizing book, at once fascinating in detail and somehow larger than the sum of its parts. A biography of the heart is compelling because it isn't about the heart so much as it is about being human. And this condition is invoked and explored, made dramatic and compelling through an astonishing collection of historical details. A lovely book, moving, witty, and, of course, told with great heart."—Craig Nova, author of The Informer and The Good Son

"No matter how much you think you know about the heart, you will be enlightened and entertained by this fascinating book. From its image as a religious icon and the seat of thoughts and feelings, we are led through the great discoveries of its function, its diseases, and its cures, including the most up-to-date therapies and promising clinical research."—William Parmley, M.D., former Chief of Cardiology, UCSF, past president of the American College of Cardiology

"As the body's main power source and traditionally presumed seat of emotions, the human heart has inspired more natural philosophy and literature than any other organ. The brothers and coauthors Amidon, one a novelist, the other a cardiologist, call their unusual collaboration a biography because it presents a multifaceted picture of the heart's influences on mythology, science, and popular culture through the ages. In six lyrically written chapters, they trace humanity's perennial fascination with the heart through the eyes of history's greatest artists and medical explorers, beginning with the Greeks and fancifully ending with a peek into the future of cardiological innovation. Particularly attention-grabbing are the stories of groundbreaking researchers, such as Sir William Harvey, who discovered the circulatory system, and German internist Werner Forssmann, who proved the value of catheterization by inserting a tube in his own heart . . . The end result should appeal to both poets and physicians."—Booklist

"The brothers Amidon refer to their book as a 'biography of this remarkable machine' and it's a fitting description for such a tidy volume. Chapters begin with entertaining and illustrative historical tales, before reviewing the roles that people have assigned to the heart, as a metaphor for what is 'most essential in a human being' and the place 'in which Jesus Christ dwelled' (from 399 BCE, an era that also looked heavenward to explain the myocardial infarction). The authors liberally sprinkle their effort with charm and literary allusions, to The Scarlet Letter, Measure for Measure, (where love is "a sort of cardiac shock") and other texts. In fact, The Sublime Engine is that rare book: so entertaining that its ability to educate seems effortless. The authors turn the heart into a beloved friend for whom we should care desperately; readers may in fact be more inspired to 'start jogging and eat fewer cheeseburgers' by Amidon (author of Human Capital) and Amidon (a practicing cardiologist) than by their own G.P., which makes a final tale of two very different men who suffer heart attacks, and the disparity of care that they receive, even more, yes, heartbreaking."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon, MD

  • Stephen Amidon is the author of six novels, including The New City and Human Capital. His fiction has been published in 15 countries, and he is a regular contributor of essays and criticism to newspapers and magazines in the United States and United Kingdom.

    Thomas Amidon, M.D., has been cardiology section chief at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, WA, and a clinical instructor at Washington University. He is the author of dozens of articles and coauthor of the cardiology chapter in a topselling medical textbook.

  • Stephen Amidon Copyright Greg Martin