The Wall Street Journal today listed “Healing Reads: The Year’s Five Best Books,” including one reporter Laura Landro called “a lyrical history of the human heart.” That history’s co-author is novelist Stephen Amidon (’81), who wrote “The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart,” with Dr. Thomas Amidon, his cardiologist brother.
The book examines the heart in medicine and culture — and its power beyond its role as an organ. “Even as the organ became the central image in religion and the arts for describing those qualities that make us the most human — Shakespeare’s tale of Antony and Cleopatra, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — it took centuries to fully understand its physical properties,” Landro writes. She goes on to say that the authors provide “a roadmap to the heart’s chambers, its electrical impulses, and its defects, as well as a basic primer about the interventions that have made it possible for broken hearts to beat on.”
Interviewed by National Public Radio earlier in the year, alumnus Amidon discussed how the heart’s metaphorical power has persisted despite the technological innovations to address the physical heart from the time “the great anatomists of the Renaissance” began cutting open bodies to the surgical interventions today.
“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,” Amidon told NPR. “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.”
In other words, the power of the heart — “we leave our hearts in San Francisco, wear them on our sleeves, speak straight from them” — endures.
Look for Stephen Amidon at Wake Forest during Words Awake!, a writers’ conference that begins on March 23. He is one of Wake Forest’s literary luminaries, scheduled to return to campus to share his experiences at what organizers hope will be a vibrant weekend celebration of Wake Forest writers and writing.