The Points Interview returns today after a six-week holiday, with the fourteenth installment of the series featuring Howard Markel’s An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine. Just released by Pantheon, An Anatomy of Addiction has already received considerable notice, including this review in the Sunday New York Times and this review in Salon. Markel is the wearer of many hats at the University of Michigan, including serving as the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, and we’re grateful to him for taking a moment to discuss his book.
1. Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine is the story of two medical giants who happened to abuse cocaine. Freud, of course, is the father of psychoanalysis, while Halsted, who is less well known to the general reader, was the father of modern surgery. Both experimented with cocaine to help others. Freud hoped it would cure a dear friend of morphine addiction, and Halsted believed cocaine was destined to be the world’s first truly effective local anesthetic. Both used themselves as guinea pigs, and were soon ‘hooked’. Through their shared addiction, Freud and Halsted are tragic figures, but the sum of their life achievements makes them heroes. Freud never used the drug intravenously, and very likely overcame his addiction just as he started developing the therapeutic process we know as psychoanalysis. Halsted wasn’t as lucky. He used cocaine and morphine intravenously for the rest of his life, and underwent the personality changes and alienations we now associate with the addiction process. His iron will to develop new and better surgical techniques, and to teach these to students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was strong enough to insure that he confined his addictive excesses to times away from the hospital.