It’s not every day someone hands you a research notebook covered in monkey’s blood. But so begins my foray into the strangest scientific experiments of the modern era. MR. HUMBLE AND DR. BUTCHER follows the unprecedented work and life of Dr. Robert White from his first surgery (an operation on a frog at the age of 15) to his final bid to perform a human head transplant before his death in 2010.
Yes. A head transplant.
We tend to give precedence to the brain, and so long as our consciousness remains intact, we are we. But should we have that brain removed from the body that houses it—well, that’s another story. In fact, it’s this story. “We discovered that you can keep a human brain going without any circulation,” said Dr. White. “It’s dead for all practical purpose — for over an hour — then bring it back to life. If you want something that’s a little bit science fiction, that is it, man, that is it!” MR. HUMBLE AND DR. BUTCHER will tell the incredible story of a “Frankenstein” event, the world’s first successful primate head transplant, but also how this bizarre encounter shaped, and in fact inaugurated, life-saving technologies that still save lives today. The book will also explore a mystery that still begs to be solved: if you make a brain to live outside a body, what becomes of the self? Or as White puts it, “Can you transplant the human SOUL?” And finally, this story will follow a contest every bit as determined as the space race: the Cold War contest between Russia and America to perform the first head transplant in a bid to overcome mortality and to bestow life.
“A true-life story even more dark and twisted than the X-Files case it inspired. Brandy Schillace captures the brilliant, disturbing, and fascinating character of Dr. Robert White, determined head transplanter. In the process, she not only exposes scenes of medical experimentation straight out of a horror film but takes us on a socio-political journey through the 20th century, raising questions along the way about life, death, and the nature of the soul itself. Remarkable.”
— Frank Spotnitz, Emmy Award-winning writer & producer of The X-Files
Research supported by the Sloan Foundation Program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology.