The Butchering Art
The gripping story of how Joseph Lister's antiseptic method changed medicine foreverIn 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, working before anesthesia, who 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.

The Butchering Art Details

TitleThe Butchering Art
Author
ReleaseOct 31st, 2017
PublisherScientific American / Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN-139780374117290
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Science, Biography, Health, Medicine, Medical, Historical

The Butchering Art Review

  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    My hardback copy is here! I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this through NetGalley, and seriously, the second I finished it, I went and preordered it. This is one of the best and my favorite books of the year!Even though I just read this, I'm already rereading this. In short, This book really delves into the Victorian surgery practices and thanks to Joseph Lister, for forever changing what we know about surgery today. Seriously highlighted and now tabbing seems like half of the book. S My hardback copy is here! I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this through NetGalley, and seriously, the second I finished it, I went and preordered it. This is one of the best and my favorite books of the year!Even though I just read this, I'm already rereading this. In short, This book really delves into the Victorian surgery practices and thanks to Joseph Lister, for forever changing what we know about surgery today. Seriously highlighted and now tabbing seems like half of the book. So fascinating and well researched. Looking through the hardback copy, there is an index in the back and around 30 pages of notes on where the research came from! I would recommend this to anyone interested in medical, history, science, an amazing well-researched biography....ok nevermind-I would recommend this to everyone. Can't wait to see Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris speak at the Winchester House on Oct 20 :).Also, you can check out her Youtube channel, all about past medical practices https://www.youtube.com/user/UnderThe...Cant thank Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris and Farrar, Straus and Giroux enough for allowing me to read and review this book for an honest opinion through Netgalley.
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  • Book Riot Community
    January 1, 1970
    When is it a better time to read a gruesome history of medicine than right before Halloween??? Fitzharris spares no details documenting Joseph Lister and his campaign to teach the medical profession that germs really existed. (Before Lister, doctors didn’t wash their hands or their medical instruments all that often. Blergh.) It’s also an illuminating look at a profession one looked upon with skepticism, a profession that often relied on graveyards to supply their knowledge…Backlist bump: Cranio When is it a better time to read a gruesome history of medicine than right before Halloween??? Fitzharris spares no details documenting Joseph Lister and his campaign to teach the medical profession that germs really existed. (Before Lister, doctors didn’t wash their hands or their medical instruments all that often. Blergh.) It’s also an illuminating look at a profession one looked upon with skepticism, a profession that often relied on graveyards to supply their knowledge…Backlist bump: Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin DickeyTune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...
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  • Roisin Cure
    January 1, 1970
    A brother of mine had an advance copy of The Butchering Art and was going to send it to my daughter - his goddaughter - as she has a taste for the gory, and has expressed an interest in studying medicine. "Not so fast," I said, "I think I'll have that." So he sent it to me.Is there a word that is the opposite of genocide? That's what Lister did. The Butchering Art is the story of how one man - who stood on the shoulders of giants - transformed medical operations from something of enormous risk i A brother of mine had an advance copy of The Butchering Art and was going to send it to my daughter - his goddaughter - as she has a taste for the gory, and has expressed an interest in studying medicine. "Not so fast," I said, "I think I'll have that." So he sent it to me.Is there a word that is the opposite of genocide? That's what Lister did. The Butchering Art is the story of how one man - who stood on the shoulders of giants - transformed medical operations from something of enormous risk into something that none of us needs to face with dread. He was the perfect confluence of character, heritage and circumstance; we often hear of villains whose circumstances contrived to turn them wicked, but seldom do we hear about good people whose circumstances allowed them to fulfill their potential and reach dizzying heights of benevolence.From the moment the book began, I was hooked. Each chapter sets the scene for the tale to follow: while other books might give you a rather dry context for what's to come, not Dr Fitzharris. She describes the scene where the action is to be set in a way that makes you feel like you're there - the cold, the snowy streets, the stuffy, stinking atmosphere in a filthy operating room...if you ever dream about what it was like to live in times gone by, the author's words will transport you in glorious technicolor. Her uncanny ability to do this continues throughout the book, and I can now conjure up images of nineteenth-century medical circles in a way that I never thought possible. So from an atmospheric point of view, it's a virtuoso performance. The subject of the book, Joseph Lister, is introduced in a timely manner - just far enough in to give you the social context of his arrival. The journey he took is sensitively written, and you feel for him, especially if you've ever experienced the frustration of self-belief when you are surrounded by naysayers. His life, and his incredible work, are nothing short of utterly inspiring. I feel a huge sense of gratitude to Lister (and of course to the poor, unsung heroes who went before him, like the Hungarian doctor whose name I have already forgotten, like everyone else). The story of Lister's life is one that gives me comfort on many levels. That he did what he did; that it's possible to do something really good and lasting with your life; that you need to remember the bigger picture, even when things aren't going you way.Another thing I loved about the book is that your curiosity is often piqued by the circumstances of bit-players in the book. For example, a woman is stabbed. The point of this is to tell you how her wound was treated, but the author knows that you want to know whether she got justice, and so she tells you just enough to satisfy, but not so much that the story digresses too much. The same approach is given with other minor characters, and it's perfectly judged.Yes, the book is very gory, and that isn't my cup of tea, but you quickly get used to that (like most animal lovers the only bit I found hard to read was a description of vivisection on an animal, but it was done in the genuine pursuit of medical advancement, and I have to try to remember that). Besides, the gore and so on was an intrinsic part of Victorian life and is an important contribution to the setting of the scene. The place must have stunk between one thing and another. I don't want to give too much away, but imagine if your doctor came in to operate on you in a filthy apron covered in bits of decaying body, with filthy knives, and to whom it would not occur to wash his hands?Normally I fall asleep the second I hit the pillow, and I have had late nights and early starts over the last couple of weeks, but I still indulged in a few pages every night - it was a real treat and I hung on every word. I thank the author deeply for the time and effort she gave to writing and researching this book. I only wish she had written an extensive library of such tomes.A fantastic read that stays with you long after you turn the last page.
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  • Jen Juenke
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. It was part history, part medical history, and part biography. The book follows the path of Dr Lister who pioneered the stop of spreading germs during surgery. It delves into how surgeries were performed in hospitals and at home, how high the fatality rate was when surgery was performed, and the general conditions of European hospitals in the 1800's. The author was detailed, dramatic, and I felt that the book was well researched. BRILLIANT Book for anyone curious about medical I loved this book. It was part history, part medical history, and part biography. The book follows the path of Dr Lister who pioneered the stop of spreading germs during surgery. It delves into how surgeries were performed in hospitals and at home, how high the fatality rate was when surgery was performed, and the general conditions of European hospitals in the 1800's. The author was detailed, dramatic, and I felt that the book was well researched. BRILLIANT Book for anyone curious about medical history!
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  • Jodi Spillane
    January 1, 1970
    Extremely readable history of Joseph Lister's career and his successful attempt to transform Victorian medicine into something that could actually cure a patient, not kill them. If you are squeamish, don't read this book while eating :-)
  • Vintage274
    January 1, 1970
    Medical history can be fascinating, especially when we realize how far we have come and so quickly. This book makes all too clear the threat to health of the nineteenth century when surgeons had no idea that germs caused infections and that simple sanitation could save lives. Detailed and interesting
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  • Julia Simpson-Urrutia
    January 1, 1970
    Speed and spectacle typified British surgery in the first half of the 19th century. The operating theater no doubt got its name from the audience it drew from curious laypeople right off the streets although naturally the first rows and floor area were crowded with medical students. A surgeon might not be able to operate until he had enough space. Frustrated audience in the back rows yelled, “Heads, heads!” when people in front obscured their view.We forget the major impacts that our understandi Speed and spectacle typified British surgery in the first half of the 19th century. The operating theater no doubt got its name from the audience it drew from curious laypeople right off the streets although naturally the first rows and floor area were crowded with medical students. A surgeon might not be able to operate until he had enough space. Frustrated audience in the back rows yelled, “Heads, heads!” when people in front obscured their view.We forget the major impacts that our understanding—of science, medicine and technology, for instance—have had on culture. The Butchering Art reminds the reader that even such details as how people got hurt, how they endured large tumors over years of growth or operations for the same, and what they believed did and did not cause illness have radically altered. We would be shocked at what people argued about over the dinner table and at staff meetings! Just before the mid-19th century, “Hospitalism” was a coined phrase understood to refer to the increase of infection and suppuration brought on by “the big four” killers in hospitals: gangrene, septicemia, “pyemia” (development of pus-filled abscesses) and erysipelas (a streptococcus infection of the skin, i.e. St. Anthony’s Fire). Those in the medical field knew that hospitalism was a highly likely recurring event at large urban hospitals but they did not know why. Because infections were so prevalent in big hospitals, some doctors were proponents of patients being treated in their own homes or at the doctors’ offices. Understandably, however, it was easier for doctors to perform surgeries and for nurses to watch over patients in big hospitals, but within those confines, medical staff argued about how contagion spread, giving rise to two groups—“contagionists” and “anti-contagionists.” Contagionists believed in contagion that went from person to person. Contagionists had an assortment of theories, including invisible bullets of disease. Anti-contagionists indignantly pointed to the squalor of the living conditions of the poor as well as the disgusting state of streets in large urban areas (London) Miasma was blamed for the spread of disease.Set against this background of ideas comes Joseph Lister, the British surgeon of Quaker background who was noted (and knighted) for his endless scientific studies and promotion of antiseptic surgery and sterilization and upon whose life Fitzharris brings her own microscope. However, in The Butchering Art, the author begins with Robert Liston, who was noted for his speed and dexterity, if not for the survival rate of patients (poor at best) due to the fact that no one yet understood how infection occurred. Since there was nothing to render the patient unconscious, the best surgeons were fast. Liston, Fitzharris tells us, “could remove a leg in less than thirty seconds.” Speed had its drawbacks, as when Listen sliced off the testicle along with the leg being amputated.Joseph Lister, as it happens, was witness to Liston’s use of ether, giving rise to the claim that patients would not suffer pain during surgery. There was still nothing yet that could prevent their falling prey to infection, which was expected. Pus was part of the healing process, but the healing process often led to death.This fascinating book held me in its grip. Fitzharris does a wonderful job of coloring in the concepts of the culture, depicting the smells and images of England and Scotland, all while demonstrating that there was both wondrous good and nearly insurmountable ego involved in the medical profession—and either trait could kill a person as easily as cure. How a surgeon like Lister ever got the rest of the medical field to listen, (for there is hardly any profession less proud than that of surgeons) when the principles he applied saved lives put others in his shadow, is a true marvel.I loved reading about Dr. Lister, his life, and his attitude. I appreciate Linsey Fitzharris bringing attention to such an important man and significant development. #fsgbooks @fsgbooks
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  • Carin
    January 1, 1970
    I like science books and I like medical books, but at times, they can be a slog. Not this one though! I think Ms. Fitzharris's book is the most readable science/medical book I've ever read. I breezed through it.In grade school we all spent about one day learning about germ theory and, as kids, we dismiss it as it's crazy to think that people didn't understand that germs caused illnesses. And then in high school we get one paragraph in history class about how President Garfield died not from bein I like science books and I like medical books, but at times, they can be a slog. Not this one though! I think Ms. Fitzharris's book is the most readable science/medical book I've ever read. I breezed through it.In grade school we all spent about one day learning about germ theory and, as kids, we dismiss it as it's crazy to think that people didn't understand that germs caused illnesses. And then in high school we get one paragraph in history class about how President Garfield died not from being shot, but from dozens of doctors (and others) sticking their dirty, unwashed fingers into his gunshot wound unnecessarily, giving him a raving infection which did kill him. But that's pretty much it for most of us. If you're lucky, you'll know that Listerine is named after a Doctor Lister, but that's it.Turns out Dr. Lister was an important and fascinating man. He came of age and went to medical school at a time before germ theory was widely known and accepted, when the best skill a surgeon could have is speed. He studied under a Dr. Liston whose claim to fame was that he could take off a leg in under a minute. Sawing through a femur is really hard, so that was a real feat. Hundreds of people would pack into the surgical theaters to watch his prowess with the saw. But Lister saw the theory in Pasteur's research into germs and understood that it was correct and it was what was killing people. It took a very, very long time to catch on. (Garfield dies decades after Lister had been publishing his findings.) He developed a bath of acid to use to clean all the instruments and everything in the operating room, including the hands of the surgeons and assistants, and his death rates went down. To us, it's a no-brainer, but he had to argue against men who had been wearing the same unwashed surgical coat (sometimes even passed down from multiple other doctors--still unwashed) as a point of pride for decades. It was an uphill battle. Thankfully, he did eventually win over hearts and minds, but it took a horrifically long time.Steeped in Victorian medicine and history, this biography is so smoothly and eloquently written, that it flies by. I zipped through it in short order, and learned a lot along the way.
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  • Angela
    January 1, 1970
    I effing LOVE science and medical history and if you do too, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
  • Edward Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    A visceral and vividly gripping account of the horrors of surgery and postoperative infection before Joseph Lister transformed it all with his invention of antisepsis.
  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve been following medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris on Instagram for months because, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I am fascinated by the bloody, brilliant history of trying to make people well (and how it frequently went awry). When I saw her book, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, listed on NetGalley, I leapt to request it. The Butchering Art is full of the kind of medical history that I find perfectly engrossing (heh) I’ve been following medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris on Instagram for months because, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I am fascinated by the bloody, brilliant history of trying to make people well (and how it frequently went awry). When I saw her book, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, listed on NetGalley, I leapt to request it. The Butchering Art is full of the kind of medical history that I find perfectly engrossing (heh) because it’s written in clear, honest language with plenty of case histories, and thoroughly documented from primary sources...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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  • Bree
    January 1, 1970
    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 m 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 might be) while still conveying such a vital piece of history and not overindulging in the gruesome parts. She paints the scene exactly as it would have been - which is certainly a shock when you think about how things are now! History buffs, science lovers, people in the medical profession, fans of the morbid, fans of shows like Bones (that maybe always hid their eyes during the gruesome scenes and yet always ended up watching), anyone looking for a little real-life old-school horror for their October... READ THIS BOOK.I know that I can't wait to finish this book (and I'll update my review if needed once I finish).
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  • Lena Wright
    January 1, 1970
    Wonderfully readable, endlessly accessible, deeply informative. If you enjoy books by authors like Mary Roach, Erik Larson, and Caitlin Doughty, "The Butchering Art" should immediately be shunted to the top of your TBR pile.With a deft and intelligent hand, "The Butchering Art" covers the rise of antiseptic methods in medicine courtesy of Joseph Lister - a man who changed the world but relatively few know his name. Fitzharris thoroughly covers the deplorable conditions of the era, so be aware th Wonderfully readable, endlessly accessible, deeply informative. If you enjoy books by authors like Mary Roach, Erik Larson, and Caitlin Doughty, "The Butchering Art" should immediately be shunted to the top of your TBR pile.With a deft and intelligent hand, "The Butchering Art" covers the rise of antiseptic methods in medicine courtesy of Joseph Lister - a man who changed the world but relatively few know his name. Fitzharris thoroughly covers the deplorable conditions of the era, so be aware that there are some graphic and gruesome parts; however, it's not gratuitous or senseless. It all serves to better set the scene for the revolution that Lister kicked off, one that resulted in a safer system where the hospital is finally, finally more likely to help you live instead of killing you.
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  • Whitney
    January 1, 1970
    I so badly wanted to just tear through this book, but after anticipating its arrival since the author announced it (I'm a faithful follower of The Chirurgeon's Apprentice and her Under The Knife Youtube channel), I took my time and savored every surgery, pondered every purulent story, and gasped at every ghastly retelling of gangrenous epidodes. A must read if you are into medical history. So glad I made it to the Mutter for the launch and book signing, too! This book definitely will hold a spot I so badly wanted to just tear through this book, but after anticipating its arrival since the author announced it (I'm a faithful follower of The Chirurgeon's Apprentice and her Under The Knife Youtube channel), I took my time and savored every surgery, pondered every purulent story, and gasped at every ghastly retelling of gangrenous epidodes. A must read if you are into medical history. So glad I made it to the Mutter for the launch and book signing, too! This book definitely will hold a spot in my collection!
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  • Lucie Morningstar
    January 1, 1970
    A visceral and intensely fascinating account of the horrors of surgery, ‘The Butchering Art’ gets into the heart of surgical treatment in Victorian medicine, focussing on the career and advancements made by Dr Joseph Lister with regards to stopping germs and infections spreading. Part medical history and part biography, Fitzharris tells the world how Dr Lister persevered in unsanitary and shocking surroundings to make significant changes to the world of surgery, often fighting against naysayers. A visceral and intensely fascinating account of the horrors of surgery, ‘The Butchering Art’ gets into the heart of surgical treatment in Victorian medicine, focussing on the career and advancements made by Dr Joseph Lister with regards to stopping germs and infections spreading. Part medical history and part biography, Fitzharris tells the world how Dr Lister persevered in unsanitary and shocking surroundings to make significant changes to the world of surgery, often fighting against naysayers. This exceptionally readable history leaves no stone unturned with graphic descriptions of the conditions of hospitals, the methods of surgery and the mortality rates. It is a must for those with an interest in history, medicine, and the macabre or for those who like to see how far we have come.
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  • Trish Goodwin
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this book very much. The only thing that would have made me enjoy it more was if the author has included some photos and illustrations of things she referenced in the narrative. As none were included i had to go online and do the Google thing. Overall though, great stuff especially for those that like medical or scientific history.
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  • Kelsey
    January 1, 1970
    Utterly fantastic.
  • Stephanie
    January 1, 1970
    Awesome. Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris gives the reader vivid examples of Victorian-era trauma hospital environments. Informative, educational, can't-put-down.
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