Shortlisted for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize
For centuries, the human heart seemed beyond our understanding: an inscrutable shuddering mass that was somehow the driver of emotion and the seat of the soul. As the cardiologist and bestselling author Sandeep Jauhar shows in Heart: A History, it was only recently that we demolished age-old taboos and devised the transformative procedures that have changed the way we live.
Deftly alternating between key historical episodes and his own work, Jauhar tells the colorful and little-known story of the doctors who risked their careers and the patients who risked their lives to know and heal our most vital organ. He introduces us to Daniel Hale Williams, the African American doctor who performed the world’s first open heart surgery in Gilded Age Chicago. We meet C. Walton Lillehei, who connected a patient’s circulatory system to a healthy donor’s, paving the way for the heart-lung machine. And we encounter Wilson Greatbatch, who saved millions by inventing the pacemaker—by accident. Jauhar deftly braids these tales of discovery, hubris, and sorrow with moving accounts of his family’s history of heart ailments and the patients he’s treated over many years. He also confronts the limits of medical technology, arguing that future progress will depend more on how we choose to live than on the devices we invent. Affecting, engaging, and beautifully written, Heart: A History takes the full measure of the only organ that can move itself.
"[Sandeep Jauhar's] gripping new book, Heart: A History, had me nearly as enthralled with this pulsating body part as [Jauhar] seems to be. The tone—a physician excited about his specialty—takes a sharp turn from his first two memoirs . . . Jauhar hooks the reader of Heart from the first few pages."—Randi Hutter Epstein, The New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully written, informative, and thought-provoking . . . Jauhar is a gifted storyteller who paints portraits deftly and with few words. He is a master of the verbal miniature . . . [his] engaging prose makes us as happy to spend time with him, his patients, and his family as we are to read about William Harvey or heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard."—Suzanne Koven, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"At once intimate and detached. And over the ensuing pages, [Jauhar] is our trusty guide through a compelling story about what makes each and every one of us tick. Both primer and ode, Heart is a fascinating education for those of us who harbor this most hallowed organ but know little about it."—Katie Hafner, The Washington Post
"The cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar has become a Dante of modern medicine, with his earlier memoirs, Intern, and Doctored, casting the progress from training to career as a path studded with suffering, indignity and ethical hazard . . . Heart: A History is something of a “Paradiso,” pointing to the field’s brightest and noblest stars while recognizing just how much darkness is still left in the firmament . . . Poignant and chattily erudite."—Laura Kolbe, The Wall Street Journal
"Cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar’s exploration of that marvelous muscle, the heart, meshes cutting-edge science, memoir and history . . . A moving narrative echoing to the beat of 'this organ, prime mover and citadel.'"—Barbara Kiser, Nature
Reviews from Goodreads
A Small Heart
You can die of a broken heart—it’s scientific fact—and my heart has been breaking since that very first day we met. I can feel it now, aching deep behind my rib cage the way it does every...