Synopses & Reviews
THE IMMORTALISTS is the true story of how, seventy five years ago, two men – one of them the most famous man in the world, the other a man thought by many to be the world's smartest – searched for a scientific path to a life without death.
Charles Lindbergh's unprecedented celebrity was created, literally overnight, on May 21, 1927, when he was the first person to fly non–stop from New York to Paris, a feat most people then thought impossible. In the months that followed, Lindbergh became the most famous person on Earth and used his stardom to meet many of the world's leaders.
On November 28, 1930, Lindbergh met Alexis Carrel, regarded by many as the most brilliant doctor who ever lived. Carrel won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1912 for perfecting anastomosis, a medical achievement that made him the father of organ transplants, open heart surgery, and countless other procedures that have saved millions.
Lindbergh came to see Carrel because the pilot was flummoxed by the medical community's inability to help his sister–in–law, Elisabeth Morrow, who suffered from a heart condition that her doctors had deemed hopeless. Lindberg didn't understand why doctors could not simply replace Elisabeth's heart with a mechanical pump – an "artificial heart," he called it – just as a pilot would replace a failed airplane motor, or insert a temporary pump, remove the heart, fix it, then put it back. Though Carrel confirmed that Lindbergh's proposals were as yet untenable, he found the meeting serendipitous, for he himself was pursuing similar ideas.
THE IMMORTALISTS is the first book to tell the story of the friendship and scientific partnership between Lindbergh and Carrel that began that very day. During the next five years, working in Carrel's laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York, Lindbergh and Carrel attempted to build a machine that could keep whole organs alive outside the bodies that created them. They believed that if they succeeded, they would be able to remove a diseased organ, put it in the machine, repair it, and then return it to its original "owner." They thought that if this process could be repeated forever, it could potentially render certain chosen human beings immortal.
Though they were ultimately unsuccessful in their quest to conquer death, Lindbergh and Carrel's experiments establish them as unacknowledged pioneers of biotechnology, and two of the most ambitious thinkers in modern history.
"'World-famous after his pioneering 1927 nonstop transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh, says Friedman, thought he was a god, and after a 1928 otherworldly experience in the Utah desert, he committed himself to exploring the science of eternal life. His sister-in-law's damaged heart valve led Lindbergh to seek out Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel, whose vascular-suturing technique made open-heart surgery and other advances possible. The pair embarked on an immortality project at New York's Rockefeller Institute. Utilizing Carrel's expertise with tissue culture and Lindbergh's mechanical engineering genius, they kept extracted organs alive and functioning for weeks at a time. As Friedman (A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis) demonstrates, these biological experiments were integral to the pair's obsession with eugenics, their belief that the white race was endangered by lesser organisms and to Lindbergh's later enthusiasm for the Nazis. Friedman, who has written for GQ and Esquire, makes complex science accessible and serves as an absorbing cautionary tale on how two heroic reputations were marred by fascism and anti-Semitism. Photos. (Aug. 21)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
He was one of the most famous men of the twentieth century, the subject of best–selling biographies and a hit movie, as well as the inspiration for a dance step – the Lindy Hop – he himself was too shy to try. But for all the attention lavished on Charles Lindbergh, one story has remained untold until now: his macabre scientific collaboration with Dr. Alexis Carrel. Together this oddest of couples – one a brilliant surgeon turned social engineer, the other a failed dirt farmer turned hero of the skies – embarked on a secret quest to achieve immortality.
Their endeavor began on November 28, 1930, in Carrel's laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York, a haven created by the world's richest man, John D. Rockefeller, so that medical investigators could pursue their wildest dreams, freed from the demands of clinical practice. For Carrel, who won the Nobel Prize in 1912 for pioneering organ transplants, that dream was conquering death. But not for everyone – only a special few.
In one of his more ghoulish experiments, Carrel removed the heart from a chick embryo and placed it in a glass jar, where, with special cleansing and feeding, he kept it alive, with no signs of aging, far beyond the species' natural life span. That result, Carrel believed, suggested that natural death wasn't inevitable.
But to attempt such a test with humans, Carrel needed a mechanical genius to create a device in which severed human organs could live and function indefin–itely. Might that genius be the handsome pilot who astonished the world in May 1927 by flying alone across the Atlantic – a feat even most pilots had thought impos–sible – in a single–engine airplane he designed himself?
Part Frankenstein, part The Professor and the Mad–man, and all true, The Immortalists is the remarkable story of how two men of prodigious achievement, and equally large character flaws, challenged nature's oldest rule, with consequences – personal, professional, and political – neither man anticipated.
About the Author
David M. Friedman has written for Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and was a reporter for New York Newsday and the Philadelphia Daily News. His first book, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, was published in more than a dozen countries. He lives in New York.