Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, by Luke Dittrich
Over the course of his career in neurosurgery, Dittrich's grandfather performed the second highest amount of lobotomies, bested only by the notorious pioneer of the so-called "ice pick" lobotomy, Walter Freeman (you can read more about him and the procedure in The Lobotomist, which is excellent). One of his patients, a severe amnesic referred to clinically by his initials, H.M., became one of the most famous research subjects in the history of neuroscience. Dittrich's personal connection adds another layer to this fascinating story, and he seamlessly weaves family anecdotes with H.M.'s unique journey.
The Dollhouse: A Novel, by Fiona Davis
This debut novel alternates between the present and the past, and the stories of two women connected through the years by their time spent living at the infamous Barbizon Hotel For Women (now luxury apartments). This was an easy, breezy read and I love anything that conjures up "old New York"—although The Rules of Civility does so even more vividly. The Dollhouse did pique my interest about the history of the Barbizon but I think that a historical, non-fiction account of the building and its occupants would've been just as—if not more—interesting than this fictionalized version.
We booked our upcoming trip to Peru and Colombia (including a four-day hike of the Inca Trail) months ago, and until I read this book I literally knew nothing about South America or its famous ruins. This travelogue was written by a journalist who had edited travel journals but never really had an adventure of his own—until he decided to follow in Hiram Bigham III's footsteps to all of the important Inca sites. There isn't as much history here as in The Last Days of the Incas (see below), but Adams's observations are entertaining and this was just the thing I needed to jumpstart my trip excitement (we leave next week!).
This was a quick read covering the basics of forensic science, organized chronologically by innovation—finger-printing, blood-typing, DNA analysis, ballistics, etc. Scientific explanations are mixed in with anecdotes and historical accounts of crimes, whose conclusions and convictions were influenced by the forensic techniques of the time. I love true crime stories and I'm forever intrigued by detective work—sometimes I dream of making a total career change and going back to school for forensics, but for now I'm content to spend my days just reading about other people's gruesome discoveries and contributions to the field.
The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie
I set myself on a schedule to finish this 460-page book before we left for Peru, and I finished it with a week to spare. My friend Katherine lent it to me (along with Turn Right at Machu Picchu), and she insisted that I read both books—even when I complained that I wouldn't possibly be able to finish The Last Days in time. I'm so glad she was persistent though, because although Turn Right was a more objectively enjoyable read, The Last Days taught me so much more about Inca history than I expected. It drags a bit in the middle (basically a small group of Spaniards conquer the Incas, the Incas fight back and this is repeated countless times), but immersing myself in the Inca world was the exact thing I needed to really get excited about our trip.
I couldn't feel much except contempt for the Spaniards, who conquered a native people in the most brutal and brutish ways possible. They were so dismissive and completely uninterested in discovering or learning about the fascinating Incas, which is a huge shame. I'm by no means an expert now after reading just two books, but at I'm glad to be headed south with a new-found respect and understanding for all that we're about to see (thanks again, Katherine!).