The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

September 7, 2019 - Comment

Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science WritingShort-listed for the 2018 Wellcome Book PrizeA Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers WeeklyA Best History Book of 2017, The Guardian “Warning: She spares no detail!” ―Erik Larson, bestselling author of Dead Wake In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world

Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Short-listed for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize
A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly
A Best History Book of 2017, The Guardian

“Warning: She spares no detail!” ―Erik Larson, bestselling author of Dead Wake

In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters―no place for the squeamish―and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically reconstructs Lister’s career path to his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection and could be countered by a sterilizing agent applied to wounds. She introduces us to Lister’s contemporaries―some of them brilliant, some outright criminal―and leads us through the grimy schools and squalid hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied, and the cemeteries they ransacked for cadavers.

Eerie and illuminating, The Butchering Art celebrates the triumph of a visionary surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world.

Comments

Anonymous says:

Excellent from beginning to end – no images required I was absolutely riveted, start to finish. I read whole chapters of it out loud to my SO because I felt it was too fascinating not to share. Anyone from a layperson with a passing interest of medical history to a medical professional will appreciate the research, passion and thought put into this book. I enjoyed it so much that as soon as I finished it, I bought two more copies for gifts.To the reviewers who complained about the lack of pictures: Instagram and YouTube are *visual*…

Anonymous says:

You’ll want to talk to everyone you know about what you learn in this book! I’m only four chapters in, but couldn’t wait to finish it to put in my review! I’ve seriously gone into work every day this week with some new interesting tidbit of information that I’ve learned (and likely been amazingly disgusted by). I’m a self-professed history nerd (and I majored in history), but this book is truly one anyone could read and enjoy. The author’s writing style makes the narrative flow and helps you feel immersed in the time (for better or worse depending on how squeamish you…

Anonymous says:

Beautifully written, dark by nature. Must read for lovers of science and history alike. I learned two essential things reading ‘The Butchering Art.’ Society is benefited by the good health of all the individuals within it, and that innovation has been fought by the general population throughout human history. This book casts a light on people in the medical field in the past in a way that makes you understand that each milestone was pivotal. All points of discovery through the scientific method were crucial for new heights of understanding. So thankful for trailblazers like…

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