Forget Me Not: The Harrowing Tale of H. M.'s Brain (Excerpt)

Michael D. Lemonick explains how a postmortem study of the most celebrated amnesic in history went awry

I pulled the New York Times out of its plastic delivery bag on the morning of December 5, 2008, unfolded the paper, and read this headline on the front page: “H.M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82.”

He was certainly unforgettable to me. I’d first read about H.M. in my freshman psychology textbook at college, in the fall of 1971, less than twenty years after the experimental surgery that robbed him of most of his existing memories and also of ability to form new ones. The idea of living in a perpetual “now” seemed appalling, and, along with the two hundred or so other students in the class, I tried to imagine what such an existence might be like. Naturally, I failed.