The Butchering Art

The Butchering Art

Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Book - 2017
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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 thepersistent 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.

Publisher: New York : Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780374117290
0374117292
Branch Call Number: BIO LISTER
Characteristics: 286 pages ; 24 cm

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glenna14
Mar 26, 2019

The author's ability to delivery the facts while keeping the reading entertained is exceptional in this book. Also, I recommended the library buy this book so I'm pleased they bought not 1 but 7 copies!

a
abcDena
Mar 26, 2018

I am OB-SESSED with medical history and finding this book in the catalogue was magical! It's such a fun read!

JessicaGma Feb 22, 2018

Very readable and fascinating book about the cleanliness in surgery we take for granted nowadays but was scarce in Victorian times. Joseph Lister's work in trying to save lives of his patients is brilliantly shown. I agree with the other commenter that some midbook photos would have been nice, and possibly the bibliography, but it is worth reading without these extras if medical history appeals to you.

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lisabrent1
Feb 12, 2018

Such a great book!!! Really enjoyed it. Interesting to read about the history of surgery and medicine and the struggle that Lister had to get people to think about germs when conducting surgery and how this impacted peoples recovery. His carbolic acid method was amazing but he had to fight to get it used by doctors. Definitely worth a read to see how far we have come in surgery and cleanliness in hospitals etc.

j
jac444
Jan 14, 2018

Listerine? An antiseptic liquid produced by someone else, but with a popularity based on the reputation of Joseph Lister, a British surgeon who fought for the development of and introduction of antiseptic approaches in British hospitals. This is a most remarkable story of official disdain and disapproval of cleanliness. Gruesome and gripping, it adds a vital page to the history of Victorian medicine. Lister stands alongside Louis Pasteur and Ignaz Semmelweiss in their recognition of germs and the part they play in infection. Highly recommended.

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Pat_Kelly
Dec 04, 2017

A fine entertaining story; while she writes as with special insight to Lister's emotions and motivations there are numerous references to sources that support most of her conclusions. Particularly interesting are the many side stories including that of Ether, Civil War, Medical teaching methods, and Louis Pasteur's groundbreaking work into "germs".

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gogo12127
Dec 02, 2017

In The Butchering Art, historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery on the eve of profound transformation. She conjures up early operating theaters and surgeons working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than their patients' afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery could not have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the deadly riddle and changed the course of history. Fitzharris dramatically recounts Lister's discoveries in gripping detail, culminating in his audacious claims that germs were the source of all infection – and could be conquered by antiseptics. Focusing on the tumultuous period from 1850 to 1875, Fitzharris introduces us to Lister and his contemporaries – some of them brilliant, some outright criminal – and takes us through grimy medical schools and dreary hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied anatomy, and the graveyards where they occasionally 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. (Description edited from the hardcover book jacket.)

This is an engaging, well written, very readable biography. It's extensively researched, as evidenced by the thirty-five pages of end notes. The book's index is thorough and elegantly constructed, one of the best I've seen.

I do have two quibbles. First of all, even though, the book is heavily noted, it has no bibliography, which would have been nice, especially for those who want to further research this topic. Secondly, the book has no photographs. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Photographs would have illuminated the horribly unsanitary and dangerous surgical and medical practices that Joseph Lister meticulously documented and publicized and worked to change. In addition to those photographs, it also would have been nice to have photographs of him and his colleagues, friends, and family, although perhaps his Quaker background would have prohibited photographs of him and his family.

cmlibrary_ecrites Nov 05, 2017

I loved this! It is so readable and utterly fascinating. Anyone interested in medical history or just Victorian history should definitely pick this up.

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