Episode 3.1: Lobotomies

In this episode, Katie is bewitched by lobotomies. 

The U.S. has a long and tragic history of barbaric and inhumane treatment of people living with mental illnesses. From overcrowded institutions to painful experimental treatments, patients were subjected to the unthinkable. Admittance to a state hospital was tantamount to a death sentence served in inhumane conditions. Then, a promising young neurologist introduced a new procedure inspired by the work of a Portuguese physician. Walter Freeman and the prefrontal lobotomy offered the promise of returning a patient home in a year or less. To many, this psychosurgery was seen as a miracle. But as thousands of unconsenting patients had the connections in their prefrontal cortexes severed by leucotomes and orbitoclasts, the true costs of the procedure were slowly revealed. 

Staff picks: 

  • The Flatshare (and ALL the other books!) by Beth O’Leary 
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once, directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert 
  • The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike + its Netflix adaptation

Related media recommendations: 

  • The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness  by Jack El-Hai
  • Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull
  • Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
  • My Lobotomy: A Memoir by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming
  • The Lobotomist’s Wife by Samantha Greene Woodruff
  • The Mad Woman’s Ball by Victoria Mas
  • The Mountain, directed by Rick Alverson
  • The Lobotomist, produced by American Experience PBS
  • My Lobotomy: Howard Dully’s Journey by “All Things Considered” NPR

If you are interested in any of the books we talk about in this episode, please consider purchasing them through our affiliate link with Bookshop.org!


The Strange and Curious History of the Lobotomy
My Lobotomy: Howard Dully’s Journey
Psychosurgery, Ethics, and Media: A History of Walter Freeman and the Lobotomy
A Hole in the Head: A History of Trepanation
America’s Long-Suffering Mental Health System
The Secret Lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy
Mental Illness in Black Community, 1700-2019: A Short History
The Village at Grand Traverse Common: History

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