Form and Content
In Dr. Beaumont and the Man with the Hole in His Stomach, Sam and Beryl Epstein recount how Dr. William Beaumont was able to solve the mysteries of human digestion after a gunshot accident left its victim, Alexis St. Martin, with an open hole in his side that led directly to his stomach. Through six mostly chronological chapters, the book balances descriptions of Beaumont’s research with discussions of the conflict between the doctor and his patient. The first chapter begins in medias res, briefly setting the scene at Mackinac Island, mentioning the accident, and establishing the main characters’ opposing personalities. The story then shifts to the years preceding the accident, detailing the motives that brought each man to Mackinac: Beaumont’s desire for fame and success on the frontier, and St. Martin’s desire for an adventurous career as a voyageur, or fur collector. Subsequent chapters describe the gunshot wound, St. Martin’s recovery, Beaumont’s research and eventual fame, the men’s various disagreements, and finally their deaths—Beaumont’s in 1853 and St. Martin’s in 1880.
Filling out the chronological narrative are passages of description and details of character. Dr. Beaumont and the Man with the Hole in His Stomach provides clear but not overly technical explanations of St. Martin’s wound, Beaumont’s experiments and results, and the digestive process in general. Beaumont himself is presented, warts and all, as an intelligent, sometimes caring, but ultimately snobbish man of science who uses research more to gain fame than to benefit humankind and who treats St. Martin more as a laboratory animal than as a human being. Excerpts from Beaumont’s diary and working notes show both the man and the careful scientist. St. Martin is shown as less intellectually complex but more personable. The Epsteins describe his initial joy in his job as voyageur, his sadness at being considered a freak by his friends, his anger at Beaumont’s betrayals, and his consideration for his wife. The book ends with summations of each man’s life and of Beaumont’s contributions to physiology and to the development of nutrition as a science. A useful selected bibliography appears after the text.