The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery

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The vivid, often gruesome portrait of the 18th-century pioneering surgeon and father of modern medicine, John Hunter.

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his gothic horror story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he based the house of the genial doctor-turned-fiend on the home of John Hunter. The choice was understandable, for Hunter was both widely acclaimed and greatly feared.
 
From humble origins, John Hunter rose to become the most famous anatomist and surgeon of the eighteenth century. In an age when operations were crude, extremely painful, and often fatal, he rejected medieval traditions to forge a revolution in surgery founded on pioneering scientific experiments. Using the knowledge he gained from countless human dissections, Hunter worked to improve medical care for both the poorest and the best-known figures of the era—including Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron.
 
An insatiable student of all life-forms, Hunter was also an expert naturalist. He kept exotic creatures in his country menagerie and dissected the first animals brought back by Captain Cook from Australia. Ultimately his research led him to expound highly controversial views on the age of the earth, as well as equally heretical beliefs on the origins of life more than sixty years before Darwin published his famous theory.
 
Although a central figure of the Enlightenment, Hunter’s tireless quest for human corpses immersed him deep in the sinister world of body snatching. He paid exorbitant sums for stolen cadavers and even plotted successfully to steal the body of Charles Byrne, famous in his day as the “Irish giant.”
 
In The Knife Man, Wendy Moore unveils John Hunter’s murky and macabre world—a world characterized by public hangings, secret expeditions to dank churchyards, and gruesome human dissections in pungent attic rooms. This is a fascinating portrait of a remarkable pioneer and his determined struggle to haul surgery out of the realms of meaningless superstitious ritual and into the dawn of modern medicine.
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About the author

Wendy Moore is a writer and a journalist. After working as a reporter for local newspapers she has specialized in health and medical topics for more than twenty years. As a freelance journalist her work has been published in a range of newspapers and magazines—including the Guardian, the Observer, and the British Medical Journal—and has won several awards. Having written extensively on medical history, she obtained the Diploma in the History of Medicine from the Society of Apothecaries (DHMSA) in 1999 and won the Maccabaean Prize for the best dissertation that year. This is her first book. Upon its publication in the United Kingdom, The Knife Man was named Consumer Book of the Year by the Medical Journalists’ Association. Moore lives in South London with her partner, Peter, also a journalist, and two children, Sam and Susannah.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Broadway Books
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Published on
Dec 18, 2007
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780307419453
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Historical
Biography & Autobiography / Medical (incl. Patients)
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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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 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.

Francis Moore entered Harvard Medical School in September of 1935, seven years before penicillin became available. During his remarkable career in surgery, research, and education, Moore has witnessed and contributed to some of the most important biomedical advances of the century, and his students now practice surgery worldwide. In this autobiography, he brings humor and warmth to the story of a lifetime at the forefront of medicine.

In this fascinating book Moore describes his work in radioactive isotope research, burn therapy, breast cancer treatment, transplant science, and understanding the process of convalescence.

Moore's colleagues have included such medical pioneers as George Thorn, David Hume, Thomas Starzl, John Gibbon, Steven Rosenberg, Harold Urey, and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Murray, and he recounts the setbacks and victories of their work. For example, he writes of the adventure he had with Charles Hufnagel in which 25 dogs, implanted with Hufnagel's experimental heart valves, made their escape into the Connecticut countryside and had to be recovered by dog control officers wielding stethoscopes.

Yet Moore recalls with equal clarity the young mother who gave him a silver dollar for delivering her baby, the husband who begged that his ailing wife be allowed to die with dignity, and the desperately sick patients who made themselves available for experimental surgery and treatment. In one of his early operations he relieved "the pain, anguish, and threat to a wonderful small boy" by removing the boy's diseased appendix. He describes this capability as "a miracle and a privilege."

The book includes a gripping account of the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, when Moore learned the horrific details of death by fire. He recounts both his experience with M.A.S.H. units and battalion aid stations in Korea and the sudden request from the U.S. State Department that resulted in his treating King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia.

Moore's life story reflects his serious commitment to human well-being as well as his appreciation for the wonder of human life. Physicians, medical students, and all readers alike will find this book informative and inspirational.

Francis Daniels Moore, M.D., is Moseley Professor of Surgery, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School and Surgeon-in-Chief, Emeritus, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston.

Thomas Day, an 18th-century British writer and radical, knew exactly the sort of woman he wanted to marry. Pure and virginal like an English country maid yet tough and hardy like a Spartan heroine, she would live with him in an isolated cottage, completely subservient to his whims. But after being rejected by a number of spirited young women, Day concluded that the perfect partner he envisioned simply did not exist in frivolous, fashion-obsessed Georgian society. Rather than conceding defeat and giving up his search for the woman of his dreams, however, Day set out to create her.

So begins the extraordinary true story at the heart of How to Create the Perfect Wife, prize-winning historian Wendy Moore’s captivating tale of one man’s mission to groom his ideal mate. A few days after he turned twenty-one and inherited a large fortune, Day adopted two young orphans from the Foundling Hospital and, guided by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the principles of the Enlightenment, attempted to teach them to be model wives. After six months he discarded one girl, calling her “invincibly stupid,” and focused his efforts on his remaining charge. He subjected her to a number of cruel trials—including dropping hot wax on her arms and firing pistols at her skirts—to test her resolve but the young woman, perhaps unsurprisingly, eventually rebelled against her domestic slavery. Day had hoped eventually to marry her, but his peculiar experiment inevitably backfired—though not before he had taken his theories about marriage, education, and femininity to shocking extremes.

Stranger than fiction, blending tragedy and farce, How to Create the Perfect Wife is an engrossing tale of the radicalism—and deep contradictions—at the heart of the Enlightenment.

With the death of her fabulously wealthy coal magnate father when she was just eleven, Mary Eleanor Bowes became the richest heiress in Britain. An ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II, Mary grew to be a highly educated young woman, winning acclaim as a playwright and botanist. Courted by a bevy of eager suitors, at eighteen she married the handsome but aloof ninth Earl of Strathmore in a celebrated, if ultimately troubled, match that forged the Bowes Lyon name. Yet she stumbled headlong into scandal when, following her husband’s early death, a charming young army hero flattered his way into the merry widow’s bed.

Captain Andrew Robinson Stoney insisted on defending her honor in a duel, and Mary was convinced she had found true love. Judged by doctors to have been mortally wounded in the melee, Stoney persuaded Mary to grant his dying wish; four days later they were married.

Sadly, the “captain” was not what he seemed. Staging a sudden and remarkable recovery, Stoney was revealed as a debt-ridden lieutenant, a fraudster, and a bully. Immediately taking control of Mary’s vast fortune, he squandered her wealth and embarked on a campaign of appalling violence and cruelty against his new bride. Finally, fearing for her life, Mary masterminded an audacious escape and challenged social conventions of the day by launching a suit for divorce. The English public was horrified–and enthralled. But Mary’s troubles were far from over . . .

Novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was inspired by Stoney’s villainy to write The Luck of Barry Lyndon, which Stanley Kubrick turned into an Oscar-winning film. Based on exhaustive archival research, Wedlock is a thrilling and cinematic true story, ripped from the headlines of eighteenth-century England.
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