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 and the 2018 Wolfson History 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
In The Butchering Art, historian Lindsey Fitzharris recreates a critical turning point in the history of medicine, when Joseph Lister transformed surgery from a brutal, harrowing practice to the safe, vaunted profession we know today.
Victorian operating theatres were known as 'gateways of death', 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.
'A brilliant and gripping account of the almost unimaginable horrors of surgery and post-operative infection before Joseph Lister transformed it all' Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm
Gruesomely compelling ... A fascinating account
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
Atmospheric ... The Butchering Art has its share of resplendent gore
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
The Butchering Art is a formidable achievement - a rousing take told with brio, featuring a real-life hero worthy of the ages and jolts of Victorian horror to rival the most lurid moments of Wilkie Collins
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
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
Hugely entertaining and informative ... Fitzharris brings [Joseph Lister's] sensibility to life with great energy and elegance, and her account is vivid and entertaining, as well as enjoyably (and sometimes eye-wateringly) graphic. The result is rich with anecdote and intellectual excitement, replete with emotional resonance and narrative pleasure
An illuminating and grisly look at the work of hacksaw-wielding surgeons of the 19th century
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
Riddled with dirt, disease, gristle and gore, the operating theatre back then was far removed from what we associate with hospitals of today. Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian, takes us through daily life in a Victorian hospital.