34 | Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

First off, I love the cover art for this book– how simplistic the drawing it and the color scheme. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover but that’s probably what drew me! Heart: A History takes the reader from what philosophers thought what the heart might be all the way to modern cardiology and how the psycho-social aspects of our lives affect our hearts. The first half of the book was fairly dry for me. Yes, I know ancient philosophers thought the heart was the center of emotions, blah blah blah. The book started to get better when Jauhar began to describe how modern medicine involved a lot of wild, seemingly unregulated experimentation. Many dedicated surgeons literally used their own bodies as a canvas to attempt revolutionary therapies that hadn’t been tested before. It looks guts, courage, incredible risk to get to where modern medicine is.

Jauhar highlights the sensitive nature of the heart early on; it’s ironic, he says, that the heart literally keeps us alive yet can take our life away in an instant. The electrical current that keeps the heart beating and everything else working can just stop, like that. Sometimes there’s no forewarning. Sometimes there’s no genetic propensity. But a freak traumatic event or a devastating emotional break can trigger the heart to do something completely out of its norm, risking your life.

I agree with other people who have read the book that Jauhar could have used less technical detail when describing various experiments and studies on the heart– simply because I didn’t understand when it was being explained, which means I definitely don’t understand or recall now. The stories which he told, for example, being at ground zero as a young cardiology doctor were colorful and illustrative. Given that I’m not too much of a science person, I enjoyed the narrative pieces much more than I did the Latin terms and biology textbook-ness of some of the chapters but nevertheless I would say that his book truly was a history of the heart.

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