CHARLES LINDBERGH, DR ALEXIS CARREL,
and THEIR DARING QUEST to LIVE FOREVER
PUBLISHED AUGUST 2007 by ECCO, AN IMPRINT of HARPERCOLLINS
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 odd couples—one a brilliant surgeon turned social engineer, the other a failed dirt farmer turned hero of the skies—embarked upon a secret quest to achieve immortality.
Their endeavor began on November 28, 1930, in Carrel’s laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, 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. The 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 indefinitely. 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 thought impossible—in a single-engine airplane he designed himself?
Part Frankenstein, part The Professor and the Madman, 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.
Mr. Friedman’s book is difficult to put down—seldom is the interface between science, history, and mortality so clearly highlighted…. For a demonstration of the bizarrely particulate nature of human intelligence, which allows scientific brilliance and moral idiocy to thrive side by side, forget Jekyll, Hyde, and Frankenstein: this is the book to read.”
—New York Times
“Friedman weaves biomedical engineering, science, and history into a tight narrative that fascinates. Laboratories may not seem like interesting places, but the descriptions of Lindbergh and Carrel’s clinical experiments make the reader bend over their shoulders with real enjoyment. The thunder of Nazi boots coming closer as they theorize about the making of a heroic race is brilliantly handled historical irony. As a biographer Friedman succeeds with one of the hardest tasks of the genre: showing the moral development of his moral subjects. Lindbergh and Carrel are men with Olympian egos who are humbled and then rise again.”
“The story of two brilliant achievers going so off track because of their intellectual hubris is quite compelling—and instructive—to modern readers.”
“Fascinating, odd, troubling … and strangely poignant. In The Immortalists David M. Friedman ably guides us through a thicket of science and politics.”
–Los Angeles Times
“Seas of ink have been spilled about Lindbergh since he crossed the ocean in his small airplane; Charles and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were themselves prolific writers Carrel is also a well-documented figure, if less remembered today than his legendary counterpart. Friedman has combed the plentiful sources to bring the partners to vivid life and their racism into star relief. The Immortalists is a richly readable tale of altruism gone wrong and of mankind’s infinite capacity to deceive itself.”
“The Immortalists is a sweeping epic of famous people, historic events, controversial decisions, and disastrous consequences, filled with triumph and tragedy, heartbreak and horror, massive hubris and staggering humility, aching regret and agonizing redemption. It is the moving tale of two hugely famous, deeply flawed friends who fought side by side to conquer death, for all the wrong reasons, of how one learned better and the other did not. It’s nonfiction that reads like a good novel.”
—Globe and Mail (Toronto)