I received a free copy of the book, Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber, MD, a week ago. I have enjoyed reading it. The book is the biography of Dr Halsted, but also gives you a glimpse into the life of many other great medical figures: William Osler, William Henry Welch, Harvey Cushing, etc. (photo credit)
In many ways it is a history of medicine/surgery in America. Halsted was very influential in bringing aseptic techniques to surgery and introduced the residency training system. He used his knowledge of anatomy to improve surgical technique. He performed the first successful hernia repair and radical mastectomy for breast cancer.
Early in his career Halsted became addicted to cocaine while experimenting with the drug for use as a local anesthetic. Treatment at the time, involved substituting morphine for cocaine. Halsted spent 40 years of his life struggling with his addiction to both cocaine and morphine.
His career was almost ruined by his addiction, but with help from his friends who still believed in his brilliance he was able to resurrected his career at the new Johns Hopkins, where he became the first chief of surgery. Here he took changed surgery to a lifesaving art rather than a horrific, dangerous practice.
You don’t need to be a surgeon to appreciate this book. You only need to have a love of history. Dr. Imber, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Manhattan, has written a fine book.