“At twenty-seven years old, I had been introduced to a man with no name. I had handled his body, cut it apart, and put it back together again. From that point on, I thought, every careless mistake I might make in the hospital would be a slap in his face, every success a tribute to him, my first patient. He had given himself freely – wholeheartedly-and now I had to give him back and leave him to restful peace,”
-Sandeep Jauhar, Heart: A History
The heart is one organ in our body that widely links to metaphor and abstractions. When the author of a book is a heart failure specialist writing on the heart, one does not really expect storytelling to enter in. But, that is maybe where the skill of Sandeep Jauhar lies. He ‘dissects’ the heart in this book, titled “Heart: A History”, and merges various disciplines to give us a comprehensive account of the most important organ in the human body.
You’ll find different kinds of narratives here as the book moves on- the author’s personal history and accounts, references to the heart in literature, interesting facts about the heart (such as the origin of the heart shape as we know it), medical and scientific information about the heart, the history of the research in the field, art that depicts the heart, the idioms linked to the heart, case studies from annals of research in cardiology as well as stories and facts drawn out from his personal experience. All these bits of information jostle together and find a place in the book, sitting comfortably next to each other.
What I found most interesting is the exploration of the link between the physical and metaphorical heart. Jauhar quotes from research studies and personal experience to highlight the fact that the biological heart is deeply linked to emotions. “We have moved away from the emotional heart to a narrow focus on the biomechanical pump,” he writes. Perhaps this call to give importance to how emotions impact the heart resonates strongly throughout the book.
As he uncovers the mysteries of the heart he also takes us through his personal journey- the first time he dissected a frog, studied a cadaver and came face to face with tragedy as he helped victims post the 9/11 attacks. Poignant stories from his family continue to pervade the pages of the book, giving us some deep reflections to apply to our own lives and to our mortality as well.
He quotes several pathbreaking medical research studies. It is impossible for the reader not to empathize with the brave cardiologists over time who have researched and experimented to better current techniques. Many of them have, often for moral and practical reasons, experimented on themselves! Often, this has come at great cost. How can one balance between innovation and safety when it comes to human lives? Cardiologists had to take tough calls and the book illustrates these stories though the ages.
As one reads the book one feels like a partner accompanying the author on this surprising and mysterious journey of the heart! There are moments when the research bits get a bit detailed, but at no point is the narrative difficult for the non-expert reader.
We also get a peek into two worlds. Firstly, the field of cardiology with its pathbreaking technological marvels that have indeed made a huge contribution to humanity. But more interestingly, we also enter his own personal world. The feelings of guilt and helplessness at not being able to help a patient, the fear of the huge responsibility that his job carries and the happiness and gratefulness at being able to make a difference is also brought out very poignantly.
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar will take the reader through a very unique journey in exploring the human heart.
Title: Heart: A History
Author: Sandeep Jauhar
Publisher: Penguin books