Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest To Transplant the Soul

S. & S. Audio. Mar. 2021. 320p. 10:49 hrs. ISBN 9781797121338. $39.99. SCI
Maverick physician Robert White (1926–2010) was a man of deep convictions and curious contradictions. A devout Catholic, he sought to pioneer lifesaving surgical techniques and was befriended by successive popes; he ultimately founded the Vatican Commission on Bioethics. As a medical researcher during the dawn of organ transplantation in the 1950s, White conducted extraordinarily ambitious experiments that pushed the boundaries of contemporary medical technology. But while other doctors were grappling with the mechanics of organ transplantation and its life-altering possibilities, White began to question the very nature of life itself, asking if the brain, the seat of consciousness, might be removed from a damaged or dying body and transplanted to a healthy one. To find out, he conducted a series of increasingly public and grotesque surgeries on living monkeys. Schillace places White’s work in the context of the Cold War, highlighting the intense political competition that drove and sanctioned his experiments and similar ones in the Soviet Union. Jean Ann Douglass does an outstanding narration, with energy and humor.
VERDICT This thought-provoking, entertaining, and more than a little disturbing work is recommended for lovers of medical history.
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