The Butchering Art
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Mr B's review
A visceral and absorbing account of the shocking transformation of surgical procedures, ‘The Butchering Art’ digs deep into Victorian medicine, focusing on the career of Dr Joseph Lister as he desperately tried to convince colleagues of the importance of germs and infection. Part biography, part medical history Fitzharris keeps the story gripping throughout and creates a vivid picture of the cramped operating theatres, and appalling surgical methods. Macabre, but fascinating to see how far we have come.
DAILY MAIL, GUARDIAN AND OBSERVER BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017
Winner of the 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Shortlisted for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize
Shortlisted for the 2018 Wolfson Prize
The story of a visionary British surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world – the safest time to be alive in human history
Victorian operating theatres were known as ‘gateways of death’, Lindsey Fitzharris reminds us, since half of those who underwent surgery didn’t survive the experience. This was an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation, when surgeons often lacked university degrees, and were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers. While the discovery of anaesthesia somewhat lessened the misery for patients, ironically it led to more deaths, as surgeons took greater risks. In squalid, overcrowded hospitals, doctors remained baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high.
At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection – and could be treated with antiseptics – he changed the history of medicine forever.
With a novelist’s eye for detail, Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, revealing how one of Britain’s greatest medical minds finally brought centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.
Gloriously pulsating … [Fitzharris] has an eye for morbid detail, visceral imagery and comic potential. From out of this hellish vision, Lister emerges as the cool, modern, scientific saviour to whom we should all give thanks — Wendy Moore * Guardian * Thoroughly enjoyable … With The Butchering Art, Fitzharris explores the intersection of Lister’s life, the development of antiseptic surgery, and the horrors of the wards with an almost surgical precision — Nicola Davis, ‘Book of the Day’ * Observer * Brilliant … Thanks to Lister’s dogged pursuit of knowledge and fervent attention to the needs of surgical patients, death rates plummeted. Fitzharris tells this story with an equal attention to detail — Joanna Bourke * Telegraph * Scintillating and shocking … A book full of gangrene, pus and hideous pain, which will make you thankful never to suffer the horror of having a tumour removed from your jaw with no pain relief — Bee Wilson * Sunday Times * An illuminating and grisly look at the work of hacksaw-wielding surgeons of the 19th century — Sian Cain * Guardian * Well researched and written with verve… A fine read full of vivid detail, prompting thoughtful reflection on the past, and the challenging future, of surgical practice — Tilli Tansey * Nature * A lively read, constantly entertaining … Fitzharris is an unapologetic showman. I imagine her as a ringmaster, inviting us to roll up and read if we dare * The National * A brilliant and gripping account of the almost unimaginable horrors of surgery and post-operative infection before Lister transformed it all with his invention of antisepsis. It is the story of one of the truly great men of medicine and of the triumph of humane scientific method and dogged persistence over dogmatic ignorance — Henry Marsh * author of Do No Harm and Admissions * Engaging and extensively researched … A riveting and sympathetic description of one man’s quest to help humanity — Patricia Fara * Literary Review * Electric. The drama of Lister’s mission to shape modern medicine is as exciting as any novel — Dan Snow * author of Battlefield Britain * In The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris becomes our Dante, leading us through the macabre hell of nineteenth-century surgery to tell the story of Joseph Lister, the man who solved one of medicine’s most daunting – and lethal – puzzles. With gusto, Dr. Fitzharris takes us into the operating ‘theaters’ of yore, as Lister awakens to the true nature of the killer that turned so many surgeries into little more than slow-moving executions. Warning: She spares no detail! — Erik Larson * bestselling author of Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City * With an eye for historical detail and an ear for vivid prose, Lindsey Fitzharris tells a spectacular story about one of the most important moments in the history of medicine-the rise of sterile surgery. The Butchering Art is a spectacular book-deliciously gruesome and utterly gripping. You will race through it, wincing as you go, but never wanting to stop * Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes * An absolutely fascinating and grisly read that vividly brings to life the world of the Victorian operating theatre — Catharine Arnold * author of Bedlam and Necropolis * Fitzharris slices into medical history with this excellent biography of Joseph Lister, the 19th-century “hero of surgery.” … She infuses her thoughtful and finely crafted examination of this revolution with the same sense of wonder and compassion Lister himself brought to his patients, colleagues, and students * Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) * The Butchering Art is medical history at its most visceral and vivid. It will make you forever grateful to Joseph Lister, the man who saved us from the horror of pre-antiseptic surgery, and to Lindsey Fitzharris, who brings to life the harrowing and deadly sights, smells, and sounds of a nineteenth-century hospital — Caitlin Doughty * bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity * Fascinating and shocking … [Fitzharris] offers an important reminder that, while many regard science as the key to progress, it can only help in so far as people are willing to open their minds to embrace change * Kirkus (Starred Review) *
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