The Pleasure Shock: Book summary and reviews of The Pleasure Shock by Lone Frank

The Pleasure Shock

The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor

by Lone Frank

The Pleasure Shock by Lone Frank X
The Pleasure Shock by Lone Frank

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Book Summary

The electrifying, forgotten history of Robert Heath's brain pacemaker, investigating the origins and ethics of one of today's most promising medical breakthroughs: deep brain stimulation.

The technology invented by psychiatrist Robert G. Heath at Tulane University in the 1950s and '60s has been described as one of "the most controversial yet largely undocumented experiments in US history"--controversial to us because Heath's research subjects included incarcerated convicts and gay men who wished to be "cured" of their sexual preference; controversial in its day because his work was allegedly part of MKUltra, the CIA's notorious "mind control" project. As a result, Heath's cutting-edge research and legacy were put under lock and key, buried in Tulane's archives. The ethical issues raised by his work have also been buried: This very same experimental treatment is becoming mainstream practice in modern psychiatry for everything from schizophrenia, anorexia, and compulsive behavior to depression, aggression, anxiety, and even drug and alcohol addiction.

In the first book to tell the full story, the award-winning science writer Lone Frank has uncovered lost documents and accounts of Heath's pioneering efforts. She has tracked down surviving colleagues and patients. And she has delved into the current embrace of deep brain stimulation by scientists and patients alike. What has changed? Why do we today unquestioningly embrace this technology as a cure? How do we decide what is a disease of the brain to be cured and what should be allowed to remain unprobed and unprodded? The Pleasure Shock weaves together biography, neuroscience, psychology, the history of science, and medical ethics to explore our views of the mind and the self. How do we decide whether changes to the brain are acceptable therapy or are simply bias and bigotry?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [A] wide-ranging, thoughtful exploration…Frank has written an excellent, balanced portrait of an inventive psychiatrist with a complicated legacy." - Publishers Weekly

"A thoughtful, always interesting look into the workings of the mind—and the sometimes surprising implications of how those workings have been revealed." - Kirkus

"The Pleasure Shock is a page-turner full of fascinating characters, high-stakes drama, and profound ethical dilemmas...Was it pioneering or premature? Her nuanced portrait reveals Heath as a scientist-clinician who is neither monster nor hero, but passionate and persistent. I am astounded that I never knew this story despite decades in psychiatry. Others will be as fascinated as I am." - Dr. Randolph Nesse, author of Why We Get Sick

"The Pleasure Shock is an illuminating expose on yet another dark, misunderstood time in our medical past. I could not put this book down." - Paul Ruggieri MD, author of Confessions of a Surgeon

"The Pleasure Shock is not only a fascinating biography of brain-implant pioneer Robert Heath. It also explores a profound and disturbing question: Can we, and should we, use technology to eradicate suffering and evil?" – John Horgan, Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology, and author of The End of Science

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Author Information

Lone Frank

Lone Frank is an acclaimed science writer and the author of two previous books in English, My Beautiful Genome (Oneworld, 2011)--which was shortlisted for the Royal Society's Winton Prize for Science Books--and Mindfield (Oneworld, 2009). She has also been a presenter and coproducer of several TV documentaries with global distribution and is currently working on a feature-length, internationally financed, English-language documentary about Heath and deep brain stimulation. Before her career as a science writer, she earned a PhD in neurobiology and worked in the US biotech industry. She lives in Copenhagen.

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