The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever

The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever

by David M. Friedman


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His historic career as an aviator made Charles Lindbergh 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—that he himself was too shy to try. But for all the attention lavished on Lindbergh, one story has remained untold until now: his macabre scientific collaboration with Dr. Alexis Carrel. This oddest of couples—one a brilliant Nobel Prize-winning surgeon turned social engineer, the other a failed dirt farmer turned hero of the skies—joined forces in 1930 driven by a shared and secret dream: to conquer death and attain immortality.

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—that neither man anticipated.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060528164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 786,417
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David M. Friedman has written for Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and was a reporter for New York Newsday and the Philadelphia Daily News. His first book, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, was published in more than a dozen countries. He lives in New York.

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The Immortalists
Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever

Chapter One

I Will Show You What I'm Doing Here

Charles Lindbergh's familiarity with prying gazes began on May 21, 1927, the day he became the most famous man in the world. That status was conferred on the unsuspecting twenty-five-year-old, literally overnight, when he was the first aviator to fly without stopping from New York to Paris, a feat that many people—even many aviators—had thought impossible. Making Lindbergh's triumph all the more newsworthy was that he flew without a copilot, a radio, or even a front window for thirty-three and a half hours in a single-engine airplane made from wood, canvas, and piano wire. The New York Times showed its awe by devoting its first five pages to the dimple-chinned American's landing at Le Bourget, the dusty airfield where 100,000 Frenchmen—nearly all of them chanting "Lan-Bairgh! Lan-Bairgh!"—were so eager to stare at the spent pilot that they almost trampled him to death after he climbed out of his cockpit. Maintenance crews swept up a ton of personal items lost or abandoned in that lovefest, including a sable coat and six sets of false teeth.

In the week that followed, Lindbergh, in new clothes made by a Paris tailor, was seen by the president and premier of France, the French chamber of deputies, and a million more Frenchmen who lined a parade route along the Champs-Élysées. After leaving France he was presented to the king of Belgium, the king of England (who asked, "How did you pee?"), and the prince of Wales (the future duke of Windsor), whom Lindberghquickly replaced as the most photographed person on earth. Returning home, he was gawked at by 300,000 Americans at the Washington Monument, where President Coolidge pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on his chest. Four million New Yorkers showered him with cheers and paper scraps, as 10,000 schoolchildren sang "Hail the Conquering Hero Comes," in the largest ticker-tape parade the world had ever seen. Taking a three-month "victory lap," Lindbergh flew his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to every state in the union; rode in 1,300 miles of motorcades; gave 147 speeches; and was seen, in the flesh, by 30 million people—one out of every four Americans then living. Still, none of this prepared Lindbergh for the way he was stared at on November 28, 1930, the day the world's most famous man was introduced to the person some considered the world's smartest.

Ironically, that day began with steps aimed at preventing Lindbergh from being stared at. Before entering his black Franklin sedan outside his rented home in Princeton, New Jersey, Lindbergh slipped a pair of lensless eyeglasses over his famously blue eyes and a fedora hat over his equally famous blond hair. Much to his pleasure, he'd found this simple disguise was usually enough to afford him some privacy in public. Privacy was always important to Lindbergh, but it was crucial this morning because he wanted to think quietly in his car as he made the two-hour drive into New York, without interruptions from starstruck toll takers or fellow motorists. What Lindbergh wanted to think about was the list of questions he planned to ask the man he was driving to meet, a man whose name he'd only recently heard for the first time.

He heard it from Dr. Paluel Flagg, the anesthetist who attended Lindbergh's wife, the former Anne Morrow, when she gave birth to the Lindberghs' first child, Charles Jr., on June 22, 1930. Lindbergh had met his wife in December 1927 when he flew to Mexico City, an event that caused nearly as much pandemonium as his landing in Paris. Anne, then an introverted twenty-one-year-old college student, was worried at first that her Christmas holiday with her family at the U.S. embassy—her father, Dwight, was the American ambassador—would be spoiled by the presence of someone she called "a sort of baseball player."

But that anxiety vanished when the tall, handsome aviator took the ambassador's middle daughter on her first airplane flight, a thrill that Anne, a short brunette unsure of her own attractiveness, described in her diary in near-orgasmic terms. Lindbergh "moved so very little" in the cockpit, "yet you felt the harmony of it," she wrote. "It was a complete and intense experience." The pilot and his sated passenger were married on May 27, 1929, in a secret ceremony at Next Day Hill, the Morrow family mansion set on a verdant fifty-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River in Englewood, New Jersey. Most of the two dozen guests thought they'd been invited to play bridge.

When Anne went into labor in the same mansion the next summer, her husband, waiting in the next room, struck up a conversation with Dr. Flagg. The topic was Anne's older sister Elisabeth, whose health had deteriorated dramatically after a bout of rheumatic fever damaged her heart's mitral valve, the valve that regulates the flow of blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber.

Lindbergh, who knew a fair bit about valves in machines, was puzzled that a mere valve in the heart—the body's engine, as he saw it—could cause so much trouble in an otherwise vibrant woman in her mid-twenties. He was similarly vexed to learn that not one of the doctors consulted by Elisabeth's family, several of whom Lindbergh had questioned personally, had any ideas on how to proceed. Lindbergh had several: remove and replace the broken valve, as he would do in an airplane engine; replace the entire heart with a mechanical pump—an "artificial heart," he called it—just as Lindbergh would replace a failed airplane motor; or insert a temporary blood pump, remove the heart, fix it, then put it back.

Lindbergh spoke to Flagg about Elisabeth Morrow's situation because he noticed that the anesthetist had brought with him a machine he invented to give artificial respiration to newborns, in case a breathing emergency arose with the Lindberghs' baby. Fascinated by all things mechanical, Lindbergh asked for permission to examine the device, which was made of an oxygen tank, a pressure regulator, and several feet of rubber tubing.

The Immortalists
Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever
. Copyright © by David Friedman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

I Will Show You What I'm Doing Here     1
If Man Could Learn to Fly     17
A Student Who May Amount to Something     25
Isn't He in the Crib?     41
The Chamber of Life     54
Every Act of His Is Not a Fluke     75
Men of Genius Are Not Tall     86
A Tiny Puff of Smoke     95
The Most Interesting Place in the World Today     103
The Exploration of This Realm Is a Great New Adventure     118
The Reaction of a Man Would Probably Be Similar     128
Two Men Sitting on Two Rocks     137
By Order of the Fuhrer     151
I'll Take a Rain Check     157
Not Merely a Schoolboy Hero, but a Schoolboy     171
For We All Know What Awaits Us     177
There Is Much I Do Not Like That Is Happening in the World     186
The Tissues, the Blood, and the Mind of Man     201
The World Was Never Clearer     220
The Grandeur of His Life     233
I Felt the Godlike Power     247
Only by Dying     258
No, Science Has Abandoned Me     270
Epilogue: All of Us Are Following     283
Acknowledgements     285
Notes     287
Index     321

What People are Saying About This

Simon Winchester

“Fascinating and deeply disturbing. I love this book.

Ron Rosenbaum

David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists reads like riveting historical fiction but raises provocative questions about the shape of the future.

From the Publisher

"Outstanding history, superbly told" —-Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row

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Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
mjgrogan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As I don¿t get out much, I knew exactly four things about Lindbergh (and nothing whatsoever about Carrel). I knew about his solo flight, I knew he solicited much of the funding for this from members of St Louis¿s Noonsday Club, I had some fleeting knowledge about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and I was told that his wife donated his library to Yale, not through any altruistic, scholarly motives but as a vehicle to get all of his crap out of the house to eliminate all physical reminders of ¿that crazy son-of-a-bitch¿ (presumably a paraphrase).Thus my interest in The Immortalists was piqued (especially as I discovered it lying near to the open slot that supposedly housed the book I intended to check out - thanks again 3rd largest library in the US!). It¿s a pretty amazing story. Whenever I¿m presented someone of ¿Renaissance Man¿ stature I always raise an eyebrow as these types typically don¿t have ¿day jobs¿ and can dabble in this, that, and the other armed with unlimited funds, inexaustable connections, and no need to deal with those pesky licensure issues that we have today (any given Jefferson, Da Vinci, or Ibn Rusd would no doubt have to languish in university classrooms for seven or eight decades before plying their trades today). In a sense, Lindbergh is no different. As an aviator, he becomes the ¿most famous man in the world¿ at 25. This opens the door for his subsequent careers as an inventor/developer of medical research devices, primatologist, eugenics enthusiast, author, isolationist, WWII flying ace, environmentalist, philanderer and, finally, cancer victim. It¿s an amazing story. At the least, perhaps he¿s the last Renaissance Man? Maybe he¿s actually more interesting than that hirsute Dos Equis guy? (though hard to imagine the ¿humorless¿ teetotaler selling lousy Mexican beer, but I digress¿).Of course, the Nobel Laureate Frenchman, Alexis Carrel - with his perfused chick-heart and his pendulum-toting wife ¿ is a fascinating component of this story. If one can get past his disdainful social theories, he¿s a fairly likable guy. But ultimately the importance of this book revolves around Lindbergh¿s personal journey from a belief system that only advanced white people should procreate and benefit from immortality (not the ¿wrong¿ kind of white people such as journalists and, presumably, those who wear Ed Hardy shirts un-ironically) to the notion that all humans are inherently evil to, finally, the concept that only naked primitives and Monkey-eating Eagles are worthy of this earth¿ a fairly predictable transformation certainly.