The Butchering Art – Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris: 5*****

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Lindsey Fitzharris is a medical historian, author and TV host who was born in the US and currently lives in the UK. She has a PhD, from Oxford, in History of Science, Medicine and Technology. Her book, The Butchering Art has won literary award in both the UK and the US. She is currently working on a new biography, this on Harold Gillies – considered to be the Father of Plastic Surgery.

What a fascinating book, to put it mildly. First time author, Lindsey Fitzharris, is a biography of Joseph Lister who was a pioneer in surgery in Victorian era Scotland and England. She has given us one of the most easy read biographies that I have ever had the pleasure to come across. While Joseph Lister is the star and focus of the book, there is so much to learn about medical practices of the time, and how he struggled to overcome older surgeons belief that “hospital stink” was the reason so many patients died. Oh, it was a primitive time in the 19th century, and the levels of care and cleanliness that we are accustomed to are nowhere to be seen, as surgeons were lower tier doctors and speed was essential since for about half of the 19th century surgery and amputations were gruesome procedures: no gloves, bloody surgical instruments used again and again, as well as lack of clean and sterile dressings and wards. The rich had surgery performed at their homes, usually on dining room tables, while the poor went to the hospitals, where many died due to infections after surgery.
I was completely unaware of this world, and Fitzharris has done such a great job of making it a readable book, one that does not dwell on the gruesome but rather on Lister’s life and attempts to save patients lives and bring much needed changes to the field of surgery. Fitzharris, as a novice author, does a super job of telling an engaging story and did not need 800 pages (as most biographies tend to just go on and on) to relate a most compelling story. A fantastic biography, well written and well researched, and I cannot wait for her next biography which is in the works. Keep up the great work Lindsey!!!!

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