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The butchering art : Joseph Lister's quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Science history
England - Europe
Time Period
-- 19th century
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  Library Journal Review

Our understanding of health and medicine has developed rapidly in the last 200 years. This book looks at a pivotal time in that development and one of the leading figures of modern medicine, Joseph Lister (1827-1912). Through observation, experimentation, and a passion to keep patients alive, Lister eventually overcame the prevailing beliefs of his day and saved countless lives. Readers will learn how breakthroughs such as pasteurization and the use of ether as an anesthesia led to a greater comprehension of bacteria and infection. Examples of cases, including personal accounts by patients, reveal frightening and painful surgery experiences. Descriptions of cringe-worthy hospital wards demonstrate how far we have come in our understanding of sanitation. Providing insight into Lister's character as well as detailing his life and death in England and Scotland are his personal relationships with colleagues, students, and his father. VERDICT A slightly gory, occasionally humorous, and very enjoyable biography of a man whose kindness, care, and curiosity changed medicine forever. An engaging read for history lovers.--Susanne Caro, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

British science writer Fitzharris slices into medical history with this excellent biography of Joseph Lister, the 19th-century "hero of surgery." Lister championed the destruction of microorganisms in surgical wounds, thus preventing deadly postoperative infections. This was a radical approach inspired by French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur's discovery of bacteria. Lister, whose Quaker father introduced him to the wonders of the microscope, became an evangelist for the germ theory of disease and the sterilization of both surgical instruments and doctors' hands. The medical community resisted Lister's procedures, but his successful treatment of Queen Victoria boosted his reputation and techniques-winning converts first in Scotland, then America, and finally London. "Lister's methods transformed surgery from a butchering art to a modern science, one where newly tried and tested methodologies trumped hackneyed practices," Fitzharris writes. 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. "As he neared the end of his life, Lister expressed the desire that if his story was ever told, it would be done through his scientific achievements alone," Fitzharris notes, respecting his wish and fulfilling it in the context of a remarkable life and time. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
<p> Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing <br> Short-listed for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize <br> A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly <br> A Best History Book of 2017, The Guardian </p> <p> "Warning: She spares no detail!" --Erik Larson, bestselling author of Dead Wake </p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p>
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