Reviews and Endorsements
The New York Times Book Review
…perceptive…[an] absorbing and thoroughly documented account of the ways in which cocaine may or may not have influenced Freud’s transformative notions of psychology, and most certainly did shape the pathbreaking American surgeon William Halsted’s vast contributions to the development of surgery…Freud and Halsted never met. But Markel’s alternating chapters bring them together in a vivid narrative of two of the most remarkable of the many contributors to our understanding of human biology and function. He has written a tour de force of scientific and social history, one that helps illuminate a unique period in the long story of medical discovery — and the not insignificant cohort of experimenters who have fallen victim to their own research.
– Sherwin Nuland
The New Republic
“It’s a fascinating book about fascinating men, but even more interesting for those of us who want a glimpse of modern medicine when it was just starting to develop”
– Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic
It wasn’t the cocaine we know today, of course. When we first meet it in the distinguished medical historian Howard Markel’s rich, revelatory new book, it’s something else entirely. Markel’s An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine is like the early pages of a family photo album, showing us cocaine as it has not been seen for over 100 years…Markel’s account takes on the mesmerizing quality of an animal attack filmed in slow motion and high resolution, as the rapacious chemistry of the new drug falls on the refined intellectual elite of American medicine and paralyzes and consumes them….a careful writer and a tireless researcher, and as a trained physician himself, Markel is able to pronounce on medical matters with firmness and authority.
– Lev Grossman
The New Yorker
Markel creates rich portraits of men who shared…a particular constellation of bold risk taking, emotional scar tissue, and psychic turmoil. Such traits made them susceptible to drug addiction, and their professional achievements despite that condition, seem all the more remarkable.
[Markel's] new best-selling book, An Anatomy of Addiction … is a story of 1,000 fascinating yarns — like the one about Halsted inventing rubber surgical gloves to impress a girl. Or how Pope Leo XIII carried around a flask of cocaine wine. And the story of how Freud’s original fascination with analyzing dreams stemmed from a cocaine-induced nightmare that haunted him until the day he died… [Howard Markel] is brimming with side stories that make his book — an otherwise haunting story of addiction and self-destruction — so much fun to read.
National Public Radio’s Science Friday/Talk of the Nation
An incredible book…an absolutely fascinating read.
– Ira Flatow
Wall Street Journal
The author’s insights and analytical skills make “An Anatomy of Addiction” an irresistible cautionary tale.
– Deborah Blum
Markel’s splendid history…tells how two men who conquered their intellectual worlds succumbed to the wonder drug of the 1880s. Freud beat his addiction. Halsted controlled it with massive doses of morphine and the odd cocaine binge…Markel makes their battles with the drug revelatory and suspenseful. He never commits the errors of using their addictions to explain their genius — or wondering why men with mighty intellectual firepower could imperil their careers to feed their risky appetites…the brilliance of “An Anatomy of Addiction” is its strong dual focus…A fluent, incisive and often subtly funny writer, Markel is also a Hopkins-trained physician…Throughout, Markel depicts typical druggie behavior in two atypical protagonists, whether it’s Freud entering into a folie a deux with his friend and co-user, Dr. Wilhelm Fleiss (who theorized that “the nose was the major organ of the body”), or Halsted developing intricate deceptions to keep his drug life secret…Markel plummets readers into a world where psychoanalytic models for mental disease — and sanitary practices for hospitals — don’t exist. So when Freud refines talk therapy or Halsted establishes a sterile operating room, you feel the thrill of discovery: You are there at the dawn of modern consciousness.
– Michael Sragow
Books of the Times/The New York Times
Dr. Markel braids these men’s stories intricately, intelligently and often elegantly.
– Dwight Garner
An Anatomy of Addiction is the work of a doctor…who plays detective to understand the secret lives of two medical giants…persuasive and engrossing. Markel is especially good at capturing the hierarchical, ultra-competitive, pressurized world of 19th-century medicine, with its revered masters and mentors presiding over students and young doctors desperately striving to make an impression and a reputation. Perceptively, he traces the birth of psychoanalysis to Freud’s use of himself as an experimental subject in documenting the effects of cocaine.
– Laura Miller
Publishers Weekly [Starred Review]
Markel…eloquently tells the parallel stories of… two pathbreaking physicians and how their stories intersect in remarkable and sometimes tragic ways….Markel’s extraordinary achievement combines first-rate history of medicine and outstanding cultural history. Illus. (July)
Markel brilliantly describes the paradox of [Halsted's and Freud's] lives.
– George Rousseau
Abraham Verghese, author of CUTTING FOR STONE
“From the dramatic opening scene on the first page to the epilogue, this is a hugely satisfying read. Howard Markel is physician, historian and wonderful storyteller, and since his tale involves two of the most compelling characters in medicine, I could not put it down—addictive is the right word for this terrific book.”
Journal of the American Medical Association
“Inspired, entertaining and informative…[Howard Markel] tells this fascinating tale in an insightful contemporary book that is both intellectually engaging and exceptionally well written.”
[a] witty, wide-ranging book…
– Kate Tuttle
A richly engaging book…highly recommended.
– David Dobbs
The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review [Cover Review]
Howard Markel, historian and physician, tells these parallel biographies of cocaine use and misuse in his well-written and well-researched new book, “An Anatomy of Addiction… a thoughtful picture of late 19th century medicine…”
– Michael Stein
San Francisco and Sacramento Book Review
“The book [has] a timeless quality to it as the problems these men faced are still relevant today. Themes like stress and failure run rampant and are relatable. These men are seen as larger-than-life today, Markel proves that they were only human.”
Howard Markel’s colorful study…[is] brisk…an engaging, well-researched historical homily about fame and foible.
– Jeffrey Burke
New York Journal of Books
His straightforward and realistic description of the medical advances made by both men reveals both their greatness and their shortcomings. An Anatomy of Addiction is a fascinating revelation of conditions prevailing in hospitals and medical circles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
– Lois Henderson
With his own precise strokes, Markel cuts between the fate of Halsted…and Freud…this book is fascinating because its subjects compress significant changes in modern medicine, and modern drug use, into the frame of their own bodies…Markel’s fascinating chapters about two important physicians…succeeds because it achieves the status of cautionary fable about the duplicitous power of medical miracles—not only then, but now and beyond.
– Tess Taylor
Markel’s compelling and compassionate account of these two icons in the annals of medicine and their shared addictions profoundly demonstrates the complexity and breadth of their genius…. How does genius intersect with the drug, for better or for worse? Markel’s anatomy is a richly woven analysis complete with anecdotes, historical research, photos, and present-day knowledge about the character of the addictive personality.
Dallas Morning News
Examining Freud and Halsted as both people and professionals, Markel gives us two seminal thinkers who did ground-breaking work in spite of (or was it because of?) their enslavement to drugs.
– Chris Tucker
The Winnepeg Free Press
The best medical histories are the ones that cause the imagination to run riot. A fast-rising master of satisfying this human quest for mind-altering willies is the Michigan medical historian Howard Markel.
The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Those who would like to create bridges between psychoanalysis and the treatment of addiction have a new ally in Howard Markel, whose remarkable and revolutionary book, “An Anatomy of Addiction”, offers a thorough, compassionate, and insightful analysis of Freud’s use of cocaine… Markel’s prodigious talent as historian and storyteller makes this book a most fascinating and convincing read.
In An Anatomy of Addiction, University of Michigan medical historian Howard Markel explores the impact of cocaine use on two of the period’s most prominent medical pioneers. It’s a story that has never before been told in such depth or in so readable a form. Markel, the author of the award-winning Quarantine! and When Germs Travel, has an unrivaled knack for research and narrative. So he is able to paint compelling and nuanced portraits of Freud and Halsted, the foremost surgeon of his day, and to convey the excitement and physical and psychological risk of an era of remarkable medical advances.
A pediatrician and exceptional medical historian with both wit and style, Markel has produced a scrupulously researched, meticulously detailed account of the history of cocaine, as well as the drug dependencies of Halsted and Freud.
Howard Markel’s wonderful book, An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug Cocaine is a rare treat that excels on several planes. Markel, a physician and a professor of history at the University of Michigan, has crafted a book that is both a learned history and a salacious read… An Anatomy of Addiction offers more than juicy reading. Markel also weaves into his narrative lucid and clear explanations of the psychology and pharmacology of addiction; he provides a clare and well-crafted distillation of a huge volume of science. But what makes this book a must-read are the stories of our intellectual fathers, their journeys into darkness and their stunning achievements despite their struggles with the very real demons of addiction.”
“This book fascinates in a Jekyll and Hyde look at addiction”.
– Joel Gardner
An Anatomy of Addiction is a rigorously researched and comprehensive look into the lives of these pioneers who sank deeper and deeper into their addiction. Not only is it a riveting read, but it’s also beautifully written. Markel is a master of language and a great storyteller. He makes history pop from the pages with his vivid prose and detailed descriptions. In short, his nonfiction historical account reads like a good novel… An Anatomy of Addiction is an absorbing, information-packed and beautifully written book that weaves the stories of two brilliant men who never met but struggled deeply with a highly addictive substance and made amazing contributions we still can’t stop talking about today.
– Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
From wonder drug to the monkey on their back, Markel testifies that cocaine did neither Freud nor Halsted any favors.
Rain Taxi Review of Books
So many scholars and historians have pored over Sigmund Freud’s life and work that one might have thought there was nothing more to learn about the founder of psychoanalysis—until Howard Markel came along.
An Anatomy of Addiction is Howard Markel’s brilliant account of these creative but flawed men, the struggles they encountered, and the situations that shaped their thinking and drug-seeking behavior…Markel, himself a physician and addiction specialist, is a superb documentarian who references a vast historical archive and extensive medical literature to tell his story. His examination of the parallel but distinct lives of Freud and Halsted (they never met) elucidates the ravages of drug abuse among elite professionals, their families, and careers….This gem of a book will appeal to readers interested in 19th century medical history, addiction science, biography, and the pharmaceutical industry during its formative years. Beyond the rich text and precise analysis, it contains many captivating photographs of the protagonists and their colleagues, families, lifestyles, and personal artifacts. You can’t help but be moved by these mostly somber images which instantly convey the tormented lives of two medical giants. From a purely academic perspective, there are 55 pages of reference sources that Markel consulted in writing the book.
[An Anatomy of Addiction] is an insightful and absorbing illumination of the perils of addiction—not just to substances but to innovation, academics, and the constant push towards progress.