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On Valentine's Day, Read About the History of the Heart

A new book called The Sublime Heart looks at the medical and metaphorical mystery of the all-important organ.

NPR's Scott Simon talked to the brothers Amidon—one a novelist, the other, a cardiologist—who co-wrote the book The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart which came out this week.

In an excerpt of the NPR interview:

Thomas says that one of the remarkable advances in medical technology was the ability to stop the heart during an operation. It was the development of the heart-lung machine in the 1950s, he says, that allowed surgeons to stop the heart and operate on it.


But I most loved the combination of perspectives from the brothers. Stephen Amidon said:

"One of the things that surprised me during the course of writing this book was how durable the heart's metaphorical power has been — not just in the past 50 years in the great explosion of cardiology, but in the past 500 years since the great anatomists of the Renaissance began opening up bodies and began looking at the physical heart," he says. Even as all this was happening, the heart has retained its metaphorical power.

"So perhaps there will be a day when we no longer touch our chest and kind of nod, and people understand we're talking about qualities that can't be explained by medicine — we're talking about courage or devotion or inspiration," he says. "You can have a situation where someone receives an artificial heart, and afterward goes to their surgeon and says, 'I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.' This will make complete sense to us."


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