We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The premise of David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever—that of the celebrity aviator who teams up with Nobel Prize–winning biologist to devise a secret plot to live forever—reads like the jacket of a hasty sci-fi paperback. Though Friedman’s account of the decades-long collaboration between Lindbergh and Carrel is often absurd, it’s never hasty—and it’s all true. At the outset, the immortal quest of the world’s most famous man and its most ambitious scientist sounds like the stuff of mad science: In a strange, Depression-era laboratory of oddities, Lindbergh and Carrel don black robes and concoct Frankenstein-ish experiments on suspended cat thyroids and persistently beating chicken hearts. The pseudoscience behind their quest for eternal life becomes more conceivable when Friedman reminds us that both his subjects are credited with achieving the impossible—Lindbergh for crossing the Atlantic and Carrel for fathering the modern organ transplant. But when the immortal ambition of these two heroic geniuses takes on a secondary pursuit—eugenics—their story of scientific exploration embarks on a dark detour through Nazi Germany and Vichy France. “If I could do the same tests on humans,” Carrel says of his collection of modified lab animals, “I might produce a man who could jump 20 feet in the air and live to be 200.” Lindbergh, the 6-foot-3-inch, blond, blue-eyed hero, became the mad scientist’s suitable muse—and America’s most famous Nazi sympathizer. Throughout, Friedman tells the story of how Lindbergh and Carrel achieve eternal fame as both heroes and villains in their pursuit of the impossible. Friedman discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at Politics and Prose,
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.