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The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart

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The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs. In this l The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs. In this lyrical history, a critically acclaimed novelist and a leading cardiologist—who happen to be brothers— draw upon history, science, religion, popular culture, and literature to illuminate all of the heart’s physical and figurative chambers. Divided into six sections, The Sublime Engine traces the heart’s sway over the human imagination from the time of the Egyptians and ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, up to the modern era and beyond. More than just a work of scientific or cultural history, it is a biography of the single most important symbol of our humanity. Erudite, witty, and unexpected, The Sublime Engine makes the heart leap off the page.


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The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs. In this l The heart has always captured the human imagination. It is the repository of our deepest religious and artistic impulses, the organ whose steady functioning is understood, both literally and symbolically, as the very life force itself. The Sublime Engine explores the profound sense of awe every person feels when they ponder the miracle encased within the ribs. In this lyrical history, a critically acclaimed novelist and a leading cardiologist—who happen to be brothers— draw upon history, science, religion, popular culture, and literature to illuminate all of the heart’s physical and figurative chambers. Divided into six sections, The Sublime Engine traces the heart’s sway over the human imagination from the time of the Egyptians and ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, up to the modern era and beyond. More than just a work of scientific or cultural history, it is a biography of the single most important symbol of our humanity. Erudite, witty, and unexpected, The Sublime Engine makes the heart leap off the page.

30 review for The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart

  1. 4 out of 5

    Troy

    I am an internal medicine physician who practices in one of the most unhealthy cardiac states in the United States. This book added a deeper insight into the complex nature of heart disease. I enjoyed this book and recommend his book to all physicians. Sometimes, one must not forget to see the forest when focusing on the trees.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Agnieszka Żak

    Momentami dobra, ale głównie rozczarowanie Książkę tę kupiłam, ponieważ została wydana w tej samej serii (a przynajmniej - szacie graficznej), co książki Thorwalda, liczyłam więc na równie interesujący wgląd w historię medycyny. Niestety rozczarowałam się srodze.   Autorami są lekarz kardiolog i pisarz – wydawałoby się, że to połączenie wręcz idealne, by w ciekawy sposób przedstawić czytelnikowi zawiłości badań i operacji serca. Każdy rozdział zaczyna się częściowo opartym na faktach opowiadaniem, Momentami dobra, ale głównie rozczarowanie Książkę tę kupiłam, ponieważ została wydana w tej samej serii (a przynajmniej - szacie graficznej), co książki Thorwalda, liczyłam więc na równie interesujący wgląd w historię medycyny. Niestety rozczarowałam się srodze.   Autorami są lekarz kardiolog i pisarz – wydawałoby się, że to połączenie wręcz idealne, by w ciekawy sposób przedstawić czytelnikowi zawiłości badań i operacji serca. Każdy rozdział zaczyna się częściowo opartym na faktach opowiadaniem, po którym następuje wyjaśnienie z medycznego punktu widzenia, co właściwie się wydarzyło. To zabieg literacki interesujący zwłaszcza w przypadku historii starożytnej, gdy wiedza była ograniczona i zarówno medycy, jak i ich pacjenci niekoniecznie rozumieli jak działa ogranizm oraz czemu coś pomaga na schorzenia. Książka w takiej formie przechodzi przez kolejne etapy rozpoznawania oraz leczenia chorób serca. Jeśli chodzi o pomysł na tę pozycję, jest bardzo udany. Problem stanowi wykonanie.   Za mało tu medycyny, a za dużo teorii literatury. Autorzy w wielu miejscach ograniczają się do nudnych, wręcz encyklopedycznych opisów w stylu: "Lekarz X w roku Y wynalazł Z.", a następnie pospiesznie przeskakują przez szczegóły odkrycia lub wynalazku. A przecież to jest najciekawsze, właśnie o tym chcę czytać! Zamiast jednak szczegółów przełomowych pomysłów i eksperymentów wyjątkowych lekarzy dostałam głównie analizę motywu serca u Szekspira, na obrazach sakralnych albo w filmie 21 gram. Ok, rozumiem, że twórcy chceli zarysować tło, pokazać, że nim serce stało się zwykłym organem takim jak choćby wątroba, stanowiło zjawisko magiczne, siedlisko duszy, symbol emocji. Rozumiem, że próbowali zarysować tło historyczne, wyjaśnić jak zmieniał się sposób myślenia o sercu. Ale jednocześnie autorzy zapomnieli o samej medycynie. Po prostu rozgraniczenie między częścią literacką, fikcyjnymi historyjkami obrazującymi epokę, a częścią medyczną, konkretną, opartą na faktach, powinno być wyraźne. Niestety nawet tam, gdzie autorzy powinni skupić się na historii medycyny, atakują niepotrzebne wstawki o niczym. Poniżej znajdziecie próbkę zdania zapychacza: Zrozumieliśmy, że stan naszego serca zależy od naszych przodków. Podobnie jak bohaterowie greckich tragedii naznaczeni fatum nosimy w sobie zawiły szyfr losu zapisany w DNA. W średniowieczu uważano, że serce jest księgąm w której zapisuje się uczynki naszych dusz. Najciekawszy okazał się rozdział pierwszy, ponieważ pokazuje, jak dziwne teorie snuli medycy i filozofowie na temat budowy, działania i roli serca. Momentami mieli rację, ale głównie zatrważająco się mylili. Na tej podstawie naprawdę można zrozumieć, jak wielki dokonał się postęp i jak wiele się nauczyliśmy.   Notka promocyjna głosi: "Genialna maszyna" to połączenie stylu Jürgena Thorwalda z erudycją prof. Andrzeja Szczeklika. Nie wiem, jak z erudycją u Szczeklika, ale zdecydowanie zabrakło lekkiego stylu Thorwalda, potrafiącego znaleźć idealną równowagę pomiędzy faktami historycznymi, medycznymi zawiłościami a rozważaniami ogólnymi czy osobistymi. Duet panów Amidon tak dobrze pisać niestety nie potrafi.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joann

    Parts were great. Interesting info but ..... This book wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Included science, art, religion, literature. Started some chapters with a story about a fictional person. Others started with a story about an actual person. (William Harvey was a fascinating guy!) It included a bibliography but no footnotes. No index. A diagram or two would have been greatly appreciated. Glad I read it. Skimmed some parts. Who knew so many of our heart drugs came from such odd places. I kne Parts were great. Interesting info but ..... This book wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Included science, art, religion, literature. Started some chapters with a story about a fictional person. Others started with a story about an actual person. (William Harvey was a fascinating guy!) It included a bibliography but no footnotes. No index. A diagram or two would have been greatly appreciated. Glad I read it. Skimmed some parts. Who knew so many of our heart drugs came from such odd places. I knew about foxglove and willow bark but viper venom? Fascinating to read the recent history of cardiac care. Things that we take for granted now, like valve replacement, angiograms, coronary bypass surgery are all soooo recent.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Hartford

    Great read. Especially for those wondering about the intersections of faith and science. An easy to read history of the human heart, and the uncharted territory of the past 50 years as we have the ability to work on the heart like never before. The authors explore what those options have done to our collective psyche. If you have had heart work done, or are expecting to, this is a must read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Gleason

    The brothers Amidon (one a cardiologist, the other a gifted novelist, have put together an interesting and educational book about the human heart. Half medical science of the heart, the other offers an historical travelogue of how the heart was viewed by many different cultures and peoples over the centuries including poets and writers among others. The stories over history that are sprinkled throughout the book would make for reading even if it didn’t go far beyond that. I confess that the phil The brothers Amidon (one a cardiologist, the other a gifted novelist, have put together an interesting and educational book about the human heart. Half medical science of the heart, the other offers an historical travelogue of how the heart was viewed by many different cultures and peoples over the centuries including poets and writers among others. The stories over history that are sprinkled throughout the book would make for reading even if it didn’t go far beyond that. I confess that the philosophical and “heart in literature” content didn’t hold my interest as much as the stories of early researchers and more recent insights into modern heart history and science. Moving beyond stories over the ages (ancient heart, sacred heart and Renaissance heart as some examples) and the “current heart” (a chapter title), they venture to offers a glimpse into the future with their final chapter, “Future Heart.” But in tha t”future” view, we get only 24 pages dated 2021, so don’t expect too much extreme detail, just enough to give hope in looking forward. All in all, The Sublime Engine is a fascinating journey into what the authors refer to as “a biography of the heart.” Given that textbooks of huge volume barely cover the subject of the heart anatomy, it is surprising how much ground they cover in this book’s 229 pages, especially considering the wide range of heart history captured in those pages. Despite being only six chapters, they are meaty ones not easily glossed over, but rather to be carefully digested and enjoyed by anyone that shares the fascination with the heart that I and so many in the world do, even though it is commonly referred to as “just a pump” by some in the technical field. The human heart is so much more and these authors provide a thoughtful summary of that fascination over the centuries. Maybe it is best summed up in the jacket’s headline that reads: “The story of how the heart has inspired poets, saints and scientists since the dawn of Western Civilization.”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ulyana Kubini

    The Sublime Engine isn't really scientific. So if that's what you're looking for (like I was originally), forget it. But to be completely honest, I was pleasantly surprised with it's quality nevertheless. It's a blend of philosophy, history, medicine, art, and poetry in a 250-ish novel/non-fiction work. Starting of with the Historical Heart, the text proceeds to explain how the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, established a true relationship with the heart, and how it can now be viewed as The Sublime Engine isn't really scientific. So if that's what you're looking for (like I was originally), forget it. But to be completely honest, I was pleasantly surprised with it's quality nevertheless. It's a blend of philosophy, history, medicine, art, and poetry in a 250-ish novel/non-fiction work. Starting of with the Historical Heart, the text proceeds to explain how the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, established a true relationship with the heart, and how it can now be viewed as the center of emotion. The structure of this book is as followed: a chapter begins with a fictional scene, in which the heart is involved somehow. After the scene is over, the authors begin to describe the science and philosophy of the heart throughout the existence of medicine, and the techniques used to treat it's ailments and the way humanity worships it. It explains the psychological difference in receiving a heart transplant and a transplant of another organ, and why it was once thought that the heart was once the literal center of emotions in the body (which is now known to be incorrect, as these processes occur in the brain instead.) This is also when the author's resume becomes a vital part of their creation: one's a cardiologist and one's a writer. So you truly get the best of both worlds with this book. The final chapter (and the part in which a man operates on himself) is my favorite. I, as a startup founder, got some nice inspiration from these two men for what they believe to be the future of medicine. I hope he's right!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    The heart is brought to life in a uniquely elevated way by author brothers Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon MD in this scientific biography of the lifeline of all sentient beings. Beginning with ancient times he depicts a heart attack that fells a character in one of many stories in the book as "lightning in the chest". The reader will travel to and through Ancient Greece, Umbria Italy, London England and Esperalde Germany, and learn how the heart symbol came into existence and the mystery of th The heart is brought to life in a uniquely elevated way by author brothers Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon MD in this scientific biography of the lifeline of all sentient beings. Beginning with ancient times he depicts a heart attack that fells a character in one of many stories in the book as "lightning in the chest". The reader will travel to and through Ancient Greece, Umbria Italy, London England and Esperalde Germany, and learn how the heart symbol came into existence and the mystery of the from a deceased nun, that continued to beat after her death. The authors then present how heart catheterization came to be and treatments such as balloon angioplasty, transplantation. They also discuss the newest trends which include gene analysis and the customization of treatments for heart disease that take into consideration the impact of family history. The book closes with stories of two heart patients and their fates which underscore the importance of diet, exercise and managing stress. Similar in tone to Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies, a Biography of Cancer, this book reads as both a scientific study, and a lyrical history. The reader will leave this journey with a renewed respect for their heart and the hearts of all.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dindy

    In The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart, brothers Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon approach a discussion of the heart from differing perspectives-- one from the point of view of a leading cardiologist and the other from the creative perspective of a novelist. Unfortunately from my point of view it just never really came together-- I felt it focused too much on the figurative aspects and not enough on the physical. It was interesting to read about the history of scientific thought re In The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart, brothers Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon approach a discussion of the heart from differing perspectives-- one from the point of view of a leading cardiologist and the other from the creative perspective of a novelist. Unfortunately from my point of view it just never really came together-- I felt it focused too much on the figurative aspects and not enough on the physical. It was interesting to read about the history of scientific thought regarding the heart, but reading about how writers, poets and artists have depicted the heart through the ages,didn't really interest me-- this seemed more like a college research paper than anything else. For those who are wanting a largely physiological view of the heart, you won't get it by reading this book-- or at least you won't in the first 60-70 pages which is as far as I got. However, if you are of a more artistic bent and want an analysis of how artists, writers and poets have depicted the heart through the ages, you will probably enjoy this book more than I. Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    I borrowed this book from the library last semester (and didn't finish it until now, I've been a busy bee the past few months!) because I was taking a two-part anatomy and physiology class. As interesting as I found the hours spent peering at cadavers, I also wanted a more humanistic approach to the things I was studying. This book seemed like an interesting way to build a bridge between the past and the present. Unfortunately, reading the book itself was sort of like having a casual conversatio I borrowed this book from the library last semester (and didn't finish it until now, I've been a busy bee the past few months!) because I was taking a two-part anatomy and physiology class. As interesting as I found the hours spent peering at cadavers, I also wanted a more humanistic approach to the things I was studying. This book seemed like an interesting way to build a bridge between the past and the present. Unfortunately, reading the book itself was sort of like having a casual conversation with an acquaintance about the history of art and literature about the heart. Even the literary criticism fell quite flat, honestly. There was some research put into it, to be sure, but it was just...not enough for me. Of course, given how small the book was, I guess I shouldn't have expected too much. Overall, I found the little dramatizations of events through history to be unnecessary and, well, kind of childish. The chapter talking about the future of heart health/procedures in particular made me go "hmmm" and raise my eyebrows a few times. Overall, not especially terrible, but not really recommended either.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andres

    I was a little leery of the subtitle, thinking it was trying to ride the wave of this book. When I saw how slim the book was I was even more wary. It isn't a comprehensive review of anything (cultural, medical or historical) having to do with the human heart (as the authors point out in the beginning). It is a quick jaunt through all of that, though, giving highlights here of this and that with each chapter headed by fictionalized renderings of people real and imagined that help put into historic I was a little leery of the subtitle, thinking it was trying to ride the wave of this book. When I saw how slim the book was I was even more wary. It isn't a comprehensive review of anything (cultural, medical or historical) having to do with the human heart (as the authors point out in the beginning). It is a quick jaunt through all of that, though, giving highlights here of this and that with each chapter headed by fictionalized renderings of people real and imagined that help put into historical context whatever information that particular chapter will cover. This is a quick read for anyone interested in a mix of medical and cultural history regarding the heart. As far as calling it a biography, it isn't a door-stopper tell-all but a nice, highlight-filled jaunt.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    A neat little book, written by two brothers -- a cardiologist and a science writer -- that covers our relationship to the heart over time, from ancient times to today. Each section starts with a fictionalized account of a story related to the physical heart, which introduces that era's thoughts about the heart, how it was thought to work, and how it influenced thinking and culture. I found this to be very good science writing, although I think the book would have been aided with a few more illus A neat little book, written by two brothers -- a cardiologist and a science writer -- that covers our relationship to the heart over time, from ancient times to today. Each section starts with a fictionalized account of a story related to the physical heart, which introduces that era's thoughts about the heart, how it was thought to work, and how it influenced thinking and culture. I found this to be very good science writing, although I think the book would have been aided with a few more illustrations. The chapter on what we know about the heart and its diseases today was particularly clear and easy to follow. And the chapter on The Future Heart, which tackles possible new therapies as well as socioeconomic barriers to their development and widespread use, was also quite compelling.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kerszi

    Jak jest serce postrzegane na przełomie ludzkiej kultury dowiemy się z tej książki. Również przeczytamy o sposobach leczenia w antycznej Grecji, w średniowieczu, w dzisiejszych czasach a nawet autorzy spróbowali sił w opowiedzeniu przyszłości serca. Nie podobało mi się natomiast wtrącanie wątku serca do literatury pięknej, ale trzeba było zapełnić czymś treść. Wolałbym więcej technicznych szczegółów, a nie jak odnosił się do serca Szekspir. Ale być może komuś się to spodoba. adomie a nie z zasko Jak jest serce postrzegane na przełomie ludzkiej kultury dowiemy się z tej książki. Również przeczytamy o sposobach leczenia w antycznej Grecji, w średniowieczu, w dzisiejszych czasach a nawet autorzy spróbowali sił w opowiedzeniu przyszłości serca. Nie podobało mi się natomiast wtrącanie wątku serca do literatury pięknej, ale trzeba było zapełnić czymś treść. Wolałbym więcej technicznych szczegółów, a nie jak odnosił się do serca Szekspir. Ale być może komuś się to spodoba. adomie a nie z zaskoczenia.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marzena

    Human heart’s biography, that sounds pretty awesome if you ask me. Yep, sounds, because in fact it was pretty boring to read. The book was written by two brothers, one a doctor and the other unfortunately a critic. Why unfortunately? Because what was supposed to be a fascinating tale about second major human’s organ turned to be a history of portraying heart in literature. You can spot the rare moments the doctor got the voice because these parts are so much more interesting! Anyway, there was s Human heart’s biography, that sounds pretty awesome if you ask me. Yep, sounds, because in fact it was pretty boring to read. The book was written by two brothers, one a doctor and the other unfortunately a critic. Why unfortunately? Because what was supposed to be a fascinating tale about second major human’s organ turned to be a history of portraying heart in literature. You can spot the rare moments the doctor got the voice because these parts are so much more interesting! Anyway, there was so little about human anatomy I feel robbed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Madeleine Robins

    This is a fascinating book--half medical history, half rumination on the place of the human heart in human thought. It's a slight book, and there are places I take issue with some statements (having just finished writing a book on medieval medical education, I know more than is good for me about medical thought at that time), but as an entree to the subject and a window into worldview it's enjoyable and intriguing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    More like 3.5. Super interesting material, most of the time, but I found the fictionalized chapter introductions overplayed and their forays into literary criticism amateurish. Like, dudes. You cannot pick three late Shakeapeare plays and then adequately trace the development of the "heart" metaphor in twelve pages.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shana Yates

    Interesting little book about the history of the heart, spanning what humans used to think it was/did, to its metaphorical significance, to its workings and how it fails. Author deftly pivots from science to art to philosophy in chronicling the human heart. Worth a read for those who like to mix their science with humanities.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sam Faith

    A remarkable book about the human journey of discovering the physiology of the heart and the allegorical heart of emotion from the depths of history, to the pragmatic present, and postulating about the magnificent future of possibilities in the works of modern cardiology. A stunningly multi-faceted read about the wonderous human heart.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    The best part of the book was the stories, whether fictional or true, they captured me the most. While I enjoyed parts of the science and history as well, it wasn't as impactful as I expected. A worthwhile read regardless, will change how you think about the heart.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jacquelyn Fusco

    I wish I could give 3 and a half. Maybe I should give 4. I just didn't adore it, but that's more about me than the book. It was interesting and balanced history, culture, and science. It was well done and I learned from it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gosia Kowalska

    Haven't read the whole of it, the chapter about the future of the heart seemed really unnecessary. The whole book had it's better moments, but more visible are chapters which are really boring - like the part about the heart in works of Shakespeare.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bernie

    An interesting idea which doesn't quite work Like the Emperor of All Maladies, it makes you very happy that you didn't have problems w your heart (cancer) very long ago The combination of author and doctor made it different that many other books

  22. 4 out of 5

    George Stoddard

    A good read. The history of the heart and its significance in literature and science was interesting and informative. I found the recent medical advances and prospects for continued medical progress encouraging.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Authors interviewed by Sanjay Gupta on "Sunday Morning", 13 Feb 2011.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Herman

    from ancient heart through sacred, medeieval ,renaissance, scientific, morbid, current to future heart, a journey in time from the mysterious to the sublime engine that powers us all it's story.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nickmkats

    I love hearts and I love this book. Solid read for sure.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Serce - wspaniała pompa, której nie da się całkowicie zastąpić czymś sztucznym. Biografia tego niesamowitego narządu.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    This book is a unique conjunction of literary criticism and history of medical science concerning the symbolism and physiology of the human heart.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Beautifully written and educational. A favorite of my 2012 reads.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    Pretty cool history of the heart. Exercise, diet, and don't smoke... ...got it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Not a long read and not as compelling as I had hoped. The insight and background on medical history were good but for me the book lacked any deep substance - not a whole lot of take aways here.

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