One day in the 1960s, a priest walked into an operating room in Cleveland to find a dead dog lying on the table […] Dr. Schillace, a medical historian at Case Western Reserve University, first learned of White when a doctor in Cleveland, aware of her love for gruesome tales, presented her with an old, blood-spattered lab notebook of White’s. It more than lived up to her expectations. The book that resulted from her fascination is partly a history of transplant surgery — especially its fraught early days, when accusations of murder, racial bias and sadism were surprisingly common. [READ MORE]

Could You Transplant a Head? This Real-Life Dr. Frankenstein Thought So. 

The “title characters” of Brandy Schillace’s admirable biography “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul” were one and the same person: Robert J. White, a distinguished neurosurgeon, an accomplished neuroscientist and a man dedicated to searching for the means to transplant souls by transplanting the human brain. If this makes White sound macabre, Dr. Schillace’s account of his life and work is anything but… [READ MORE]

‘Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ Review: A Heart in the Right Place

White’s unorthodox quest made national news several times over the course of his long career, but in “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher,” Brandy Schillace finally gives it the thoughtful book-length treatment it deserves. I trust it won’t be a spoiler to reveal that White died in 2010 without ever getting a chance to perform his much-desired head transplant — on humans, at least. But he did come remarkably close, at one point finding both a willing human volunteer (a quadriplegic with failing organs) and a medical establishment (Russia’s) flexible or reckless enough to fast-track the surgery without endless review board approvals. In fact, were it not for its exorbitant cost, the “White Operation” (as the good doctor himself rather immodestly dubbed the procedure) might actually have gone forward… [READ MORE]

Transplant an organ? Why not an entire body? The Washington Post

The monkey’s eyelids fluttered after 18 hours under anesthesia. Two medical teams stood by anxiously. Doctors, nurses and a troop of assistants held their breath, waiting for a sign that the delicate operation — actually, two delicate operations — had been a success… White had done it: the world’s first primate head transplant. He had attached the conscious, living head of one macaque to the breathing, vital body of another, creating a single “new” animal. [READ MORE]

How a doctor tried to surgically save the human soul — after death: The new book “Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher” uncovers Dr. Robert White’s lifelong quest to preserve the human soul after death.

Historian Brandy Schillace’s new book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher—so titled to evoke Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde—offers a probing and provocative portrait of the American neurosurgeon and neurophysiologist Robert J. White (1926–2010), whose life’s ambition was to establish that the brain—the seat of consciousness, personhood, or, as a pious Catholic like White conceived of it, the human soul—could be separated from its bodily shell and even transferred to another body. Schillace, editor of BMJ’s journal Medical Humanities, articulates the origins and outcome of White’s obsession, his complex relationship with the media, and his service to several popes… [READ MORE]

‘A neurosurgeon’s audacious experiments raised ire from animal rights activists and interest from the Vatican’

Inteview: [Dr. Schillace’s] research took her from the Midwest, where she interviewed White’s surviving family, to Moscow, where she tracked down the details of his professional rivalry with a Soviet scientist who managed to surgically create a two-headed dog. White’s work started small, and he conducted brain experiments on mice and dogs, before “perfecting” the head transplant surgery through his work on hundreds of monkeys. White, who spoke to WIRED two decades ago for this vintage piece, and whose ambitions have recently been revived, never got to use the surgery on a human… [READ MORE]

If You Transplant a Human Head, Does Its Consciousness Follow? In her new book, Brandy Schillace recalls the unbelievable legacy of a Cold War era neurosurgeon’s mission to preserve the soul.

“Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher,” medical historian Brandy Schillace’s lively and sometimes horrifying account of his life and work, reveals him as both a compassionate physician and a ruthless researcher, and in doing so, explores the contradictions implicit in medical research, and specifically those related to body transplants. [READ MORE]

Controversial Ohio doctor who attempted head transplants studied in fascinating biography ‘Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ by Brandy Schillace explores the practices of Robert J. White, an Ohio neurosurgeon from the 1950s and ’60s.

Book Excerpt: A grainy black-and-white film shuddered across television screens in the last days of May 1958. A man in a long white lab coat gestures to a corner, where a figure waits, shadowy and indistinct. He leads the creature into the light of a courtyard, revealing a strange composite body: a large mastiff dog with a strange and cockeyed mini-body projecting from his back. The second head lolls to one side, tongue panting, legs hanging askew over the shoulders of his larger mate. Offered a saucer of milk, both heads drink for an applauding group of onlookers; close-cut angles reveal the bandages and stiches. Cerberus, named after the mythical three-headed hound of Hades, parades before the camera, a surgically remastered two-headed dog. [READ MORE]

How the United States and Soviet Union Embarked on a Macabre Surgical Arms Race – Cold War animal experimentation and the roots of transplantation medicine.

Advanced praise

“How excellent that the Robert White papers landed in the lap of Brandy Schillace. She has taken a most bizarre and ethically complex episode in the history of medicine and crafted from it a narrative that is nuanced, informed, and almost impossible to stop reading. I swear to you, if you have a brain inside your head (or anywhere else), you will find this book fascinating.”
— Mary Roach, New York Times bestselling author of Stiff  

“An engrossing tale about one man’s quest to obtain immortality by transplanting the human soul. Schillace is a first-rate historian with the perceptive eye of a storyteller. I tore through this book, and so will you.”
— Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, New York Times bestselling author of The Butchering Art

“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, and producer of The X-Files

“Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher is a rollicking, irresistible tale of doctors playing God, science facing off with ideology, and fate being sorely tempted at every turn — with the future of medicine and the nature of the human soul hanging in the balance.”
— Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road

“Brandy Schillace tells a riveting, page-turning true story, resurrecting one of the most fascinating and largely forgotten sagas in the history of medicine. She reveals Dr. Robert White in all his strange, complicated brilliance: A pious, ambitious, egotistical innovator who was willing to challenge almost any norm—including the definition of life itself—in his quest to develop a mind-bending and potentially world-changing new surgical procedure. This heartfelt, deeply researched book is a work of history, but it raises fundamental moral and ethical questions which will likely demand answers in the near future.”
— Luke Dittrich, New York Times bestselling author of Patient H.M.

“Brandy Schillace weaves together the astonishing history of Dr. Robert White, the brilliant neurosurgeon who expertly poked and prodded the ultimate question with a bloody, gloved hand–can the soul be transplanted? Deftly written and expertly drawn, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher examine the triumphs with an unwavering eye (yes, the monkey head transplant is a success), and yet smartly doesn’t shy away from the inglorious moments in research history, including the exploitation of black patients and animal cruelty. When it comes to pushing the boundaries of medical ingenuity, readers will be profoundly affected by the ultimate questions presented by Schillace: not just “can we do this?” but more importantly, “should we?”
— Dr. Lydia Kang, coauthor of Quackery

Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher