The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science - book cover
Business Culture
  • Publisher : Little, Brown and Company
  • Published : 13 Jul 2021
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 0316496502
  • ISBN-13 : 9780316496506
  • Language : English

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

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.

Editorial Reviews

"Kean is a gifted raconteur… [in The Icepick Surgeon] you'll find a series of gripping stories about evil scientific deeds, corrupt rivalries and skulduggery-with real skulls."―John Schwartz, New York Times Book Review

"Delightful, highly readable… Kean takes his readers on an engrossing - and sometimes horrifying - historical tour of the many ways the search for knowledge can go wrong… Written with the flair of a beach thriller and the thoughtfulness of philosophy, the pages explode with a wealth of information and juicy details, all held together with virtuoso storytelling."―Lucinda Robb, Washington Post

"The Icepick Surgeon has its gems of phraseology… We cringe at the ghastly work of grave robbers and surgeons in blood-stiff aprons, and laugh at the comical fights among paleontologists bent on destroying one another's careers… As each chapter compounds, it becomes more difficult to condemn and smirk without seeing the systemic ways that early sins have crept into the heart of science and medicine today… It takes honesty and integrity to make good science; we ignore this at our peril."―Brandy Schillace, Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating… Imagine a novel full of true crime thrillers with just one twist-every crime in it was committed in the name of science. This is the premise of the new book, The Icepick Surgeon… From Cleopatra to Thomas Edison, scientists have been responsible for some dastardly crimes throughout history."―Ira Flatow, NPR Science Friday

"Vivid… [The Icepick Surgeon] serves as an important reminder that science is ever a human enterprise… Kean's talent for spinning a delightful tale shines."―Deborah Blum, Science

"Catalogs some of the greatest ethical lapses done in the name of science… The Icepick Surgeon probably raises more questions than it answers. But that's a hallmark of good experiments-as well as good books about science and scientists."―Diana Gitig, Ars Technica

"Entertaining and chilling... Expert at spinning historical science yarns… Kean excels at conveying each scientist's slide into corruption-one so gradual that, like the fabled boiling frog, they scarcely noticed they were in hot water."―Elizabeth Svoboda, Undark

"Fascinating… Kean argues convincingly that what makes his subjects unique in the annals of crime is that they did wrong ‘for data-to augment our understanding of the world.' This engrossing look at crimes often committed by otherwise moral people deserves a wide readership."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] witty, thought-provoking book... Kean is a powerful, exciting storyteller who deftly considers ethical questions within a...

Readers Top Reviews

W. Jones Jordan, MD
Sam Kean is a good writer, but I found this review of anatomical investigations a bit too full of disgusting details. And I was a good student of Anatomy when I went to medical School
Alan Weiss
This is a valuable discussion of the unethical, uninformed, and unbelievable attempts to operate on people's bodies and minds. The range is a bit exhausting, from accidental and misinformed operations to deliberate Nazi horrifying medical experiments. But his points, for example, about interrogation, are valid in his context. Most frightening, and perhaps contemporary, were his examples about biology vs. gender, and the horrifying results of pressure to change children's gender identity.
Polly Annathe_readhe
I purchased this book because on an NPR interview with the author. This book is nothing like it was described. There was no science or medical background involved, just random and quite uninteresting musings of various atrocities. The Cleopatra reflection that starts the book is dismissed as something that may have never happened. I quit reading about 1/3 of the way through. Do not buy this book, it is very poor.
Michael HipiusRobert
I've read all of Sam Kean's books and, until now, found them to be plenty of fun. While Mr. Kean doesn't go heavily into politics, he does step into things just enough to be annoying. Sam, we respect your opinions and political views, but we just don't want to read them...stick to the story and let us form our own opinions. Putting that aside, the topics were a bit stale. Mr. Kean does try to uncover unknown gems, but not much in this case. Plenty of books have been written about the nasty old days in medicine. Kean fails to mention that medical schools prior to late 1800s were substantially lousy and did not require much more than a year or two of training. With that came plenty of butchering. I'm also not a subscriber to the generalization Mr. Kean presents on police practices of the old days. My friend's long ago deceased father was a detective in the "old days" and said he never saw anyone get the third degree, I still look forward to his next book- Kean gets a mulligan on this one.

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