The Lobotomist’s Wife by Samantha Greene Woodruff

Published February 1, 2022 by Lake Union Publishing

About the Book: An enthralling historical novel of a compassionate and relentless woman, a cutting-edge breakthrough in psychiatry, and a nightmare in the making.

Since her brother took his life after WWI, Ruth Emeraldine has had one goal: to help those suffering from mental illness. Then she falls in love with charismatic Robert Apter—a brilliant doctor championing a radical new treatment, the lobotomy. Ruth believes in it as a miracle treatment and in Robert as its genius pioneer. But as her husband spirals into deluded megalomania, Ruth can’t ignore her growing suspicions. Robert is operating on patients recklessly, often with horrific results. And a vulnerable young mother, Margaret Baxter, is poised to be his next victim.

Margaret can barely get out of bed, let alone care for her infant. When Dr. Apter diagnoses her with the baby blues and proposes a lobotomy, she believes the procedure is her only hope. Only Ruth can save her—and scores of others—from the harrowing consequences of Robert’s ambitions.

Inspired by a shocking chapter in medical history, The Lobotomist’s Wife is a galvanizing novel of a woman fighting against the most grievous odds, of ego, and of the best intentions gone horribly awry.


4.5 Stars:

Ruth Emeraldine has one goal in life, to help those suffering from mental illness. When her brother kills himself after WWI, her wealthy father opens a hospital for patients suffering from mental health. It is a much more humane place than many of the others and Ruth is the assistant administrator. She is caring and compassionate and wants to help the patients. When Robert Apter comes to work for them, he is also caring and wants to help. His charisma, compassion and brilliance is attractive to Ruth and she falls in love. Robert begins to champion a radical, new treatment, the lobotomy, and it is heralded as the miracle treatment. Ruth and Robert marry and she supports him and this treatment as their hospital, at first. As Robert spirals into deluded megalomania, Ruth can’t ignore her growing suspicions. Robert is operating on patients recklessly, often with horrific results. And a vulnerable young mother, Margaret Baxter, is poised to be his next victim.

The Lobotomist’s Wife is based on true events. If you google it, you can find a chart that parallels this book to actual events, but the names have been changed and some events fictionalized. The only thing I really knew about lobotomies was from the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. I learned more from this story and even more from my own research. To think that this procedure went on for decades. The “Ice Pick” procedure that had Robert losing control is unbelievable and I still can’t believe this was an accepted procedure. Ruth’s eyes are opened and she tries to let others know how dangerous the process is, and the results do not support this treatment. Of course, Ruth being a woman, her objections are not followed up on or taken seriously, so many patients who might have foregone the procedure did not. Even today, we still don’t agree on treatments for mental health issues and there is no one answer, but I can see why people get carried away trying to find a treatment that will “cure” mental health conditions. The Lobotomist’s Wife is a well-written and informative book into those early times of psychiatric care. Like any health issue, the scientists and doctors have to control that desire to find the answer and be applauded, and remember that their first duty is to the patients they are trying to help. Make sure you read the author’s notes at the end of the book, it is definitely eye opening. I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, medical stories and stories based on true events or people. This was a book that I still think about.