News related to White Matter

by Janet Sternburg

“The miracle cure that wasn’t: ‘White Matter’ on the personal tragedy of lobotomy,” by Meehan Crist, Los Angeles Times

05 Jan 2016|

In 1949, Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for “one of the most important discoveries ever made in psychiatric therapy.” The discovery was that surgically removing part of a person’s frontal lobes could relieve symptoms of mental illness. During its heyday in the 1940s and ‘50s, prefrontal leucotomy, or lobotomy, was performed on more than 40,000 people in the United States and 10,000 in Western Europe.

Yet even at the time at least one critic observed...Forward

Suzanne Koven on White Matter : A Memoir of Family and Medicine for the Los Angeles Review of Books

01 Dec 2015|

Family History

“This is the story of a family who made mistakes,” begins White Matter, a beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking new book by poet, memoirist, and photographer Janet Sternburg, The mistake to which Sternburg refers is the decision, by her mother and aunts, to allow doctors to perform lobotomies on two of their siblings — their brother Bennie in 1940, and their sister Francie a few years later. Embedded in the declarative statement with which Sternburg opens her memoir are...Forward


30 Nov 2015|

Two new books about Rosemary Kennedy, the lobotomized daughter of the Kennedy family, have been published in recent weeks, one by the niece of Rosemary’s caretaker, the other by an historian. The news they bring had been hidden out of sight, as are so many family secrets about mental illness. As I’ve been writing a book about the two lobotomies in my own family, I’ve been thinking about Rosemary and my Uncle Bennie, a comparison that is revealing about how we treat the mentally ill.


White Matter by Janet Sternburg review, Forbes

23 Sep 2015|

“As she did in her previous memoir Phantom Limb, Sternburg uses all the skills at her disposal, the sensitivity, precision, and lyricism of a poet, the hard edges of a photographer, the intelligence and scholarship of an academic, to plumb the many facets of this story and its legacy on her and her family… Over the last several years, writers as different as the late David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Leslie Jamison in The Empathy Exams have expanded the boundaries of the essay...Forward

White Matter by Janet Sternburg review, Kirkus Reviews

23 Sep 2015|

“Sternburg’s writing is incisive, and she deeply explores the boundaries that were unjustly crossed by family members in the name of love… A vivid and melancholy exploration into the mental illnesses that affected one woman’s family and the radical and damaging operations performed to counteract these ailments.”

To read the entire review, go to Kirkus Reviews.

Janet Sternburg: The TNB Self-Interview, By TNB Nonfiction

15 Sep 2015|

Read Janet Sternburg’s excerpt from White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine and want to know more about this author? Yes? Well, thank you The Nervous Breakdown once again for posting her self interview:

Janet SternburgWere you concerned that people would be put off by the story you were telling? It’s difficult material, your family with its two lobotomies.

Janet SternburgI was worried all the time. I knew that life had given me an incredible story to tell—six siblings, two...Forward

Excerpt of White Matter, by Janet Sternburg, By TNB Nonfiction

15 Sep 2015|

Want to read an excerpt from Janet Sternburg’s White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine? Yes? Well thank you to The Nervous Break Down for posting one.

White Matter by Janet Sternburg review, Newsday

26 Aug 2015|

“White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine” is Sternburg’s tale of what she discovered, put in the context of her family’s history, the currents of 20th-century psychiatry, the fallibilities of the medical profession and the painful decisions that many of us make. And while lobotomization is now a discredited procedure, her discoveries were somewhat complicated: “When I began this investigation, I assumed that lobotomies produced only zombie-like people. But I’ve learned since...Forward

“A memoir investigates how a family lobotomized two of its children,” by Nancy Szokan for The Washington Post

26 Aug 2015|

“This is a story of a family who made mistakes.” Thus Janet Sternburg begins her memoir of a close-knit Jewish family living in Boston.

Her grandfather, Philip, was a cold, angry man who abandoned his wife and six children not long after the only son in the family, Bennie, was diagnosed as schizophrenic. As Bennie became increasingly violent and untreatable, the family — advised by a Harvard professor of psychiatry — agreed to submit him to a prefrontal lobotomy. More than a decade...Forward

“What If Aunt Francie Had Lived in Belgium?” by Janet Sternburg for Human Parts.

09 Jul 2015|

Janet Sternburg, author of White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine (Hawthorne 9/15/15,) asks what if her Aunt had lived in Belgium where there is a law that “permits euthanasia for patients who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering.”

Sternburg explores thought-provoking territory: “I have spent the last decade investigating the lobotomies of two mentally ill members of my family. Let me be clear: I am all for assisted suicide. But I’m...Forward

This is a unique book. The writing is beautiful, the observations refined, the subject gripping.—Antonio Damasio, Author of Descartes’ Error and Self Comes to Mind

Who knew that in 1949 Egas Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing the lobotomy?

Who knew that in the early 1950s Walter Freeman traveled the United States in his lobotomobile doing guest surgeries in hospitals?

White Matter is Janet Sternburg’s story about her aunt and uncle who underwent lobotomies and...Forward

“Medina to Prada: An Arranged Marriage,” by Janet Sternburg for the Times Quotidian

30 Jun 2014|

“I thought that this was going to be a comparison about fashion, maybe even a snarky one: a comparison between the authentic Medina quarter of Fez — a maze of shops and residences, mosques and fountains, artisans and palaces — and the Dover Street Market which I came upon on 30th and Lexington, where I pressed 5 and the glass elevator glided up past art installations and merchandise, here collapsed into one, delivering me to Prada.

“I thought I’d compare the Arabian Nights fantasy...Forward