Review: THE ICEPICK SURGEON: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science by Sam Kean (2021)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: slavery, nonconsensual medical experimentation, torture, Nazis

I’ve been on a bit of a fraud kick lately (I highly recommend listening to Fraudsters for the corporate side of things). With the Theranos saga mostly coming to an end, I’ve been hunting for some new scandal to get into. Mentioned in the American Scandal podcast was the story of Annie Dookhan, who inflated her drug sample testing records, this book was listed as the primary source. Naturally, I got into the entire thing.

A collection of stories ranging the full gamut of possible crimes, from sabotage, fraud, murder, war crimes, and nonconsensual medical experimentation that blames the contemporary establishments as much as it condemns the individuals involved.

The pursuit of science and something close to absolute truth has been a mess for as long as humans have been documenting experiments. Combine that with policies and regimes that decided some people weren’t people, and it’s a perfect cocktail for crime and fraud. Kean contextualizes the crimes listed keeping in mind the moral compass of the time in conjunction with what makes good science.

Some of the tales are absolutely goofy but wholly serious in their retelling, such as The Bone Wars, also known as the birth of modern paleontology (I’ll definitely be looking deeper into the pettiness of this one later). Others are definitely more serious and are treated with the same seriousness, given the gravity of their methods and outcomes. Kean doesn’t shy from the details, so keep your own safety in mind approaching certain chapters. The level of detail is appropriate, but not graphic. There’s also a level of respect for everyone involved, adding in a level of chilling agency to the bad actors.

Overall, the story-telling and history is delightful, making this book a really easy read. The footnotes and appendix open up to further reading.

One thought on “Review: THE ICEPICK SURGEON: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science by Sam Kean (2021)

  1. Pingback: April 2022 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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