Genre: Non-fiction, medical history, medicine.
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
* No Spoilers
This is an electrifying book about the history of surgery from the point of view of one of its pioneers, Joseph Lister. A humble and unassuming Quaker, Lister managed to rise up through the ranks of Edinburgh’s medical community and gained a reputation along the way for his serious dedication to experimentation and the empathetic and personalised care he offered to his patients.
In the era before the discovery of germs and bacteria, hospitals were crawling with infestations of pestilence and disease. Doctors, nurses and the tools of their trade were bloody, disgusting cesspools of filth, where people came for help and most likely they never walked out alive again. Hospitals were disease factories in those days.
Lister had a tireless energy and determination to discover the cause of infection in patients. At the time, infection was thought to be caused by bad and smelly vapours in the air, rather than by contact with microscopic bacteria. The act of cutting someone open in surgery often resulted in death, not on the operating table, but from post-operative infection.
Joseph Lister was a pioneer whose endless experimentation and makeshift inventions he gradually honed and perfected into a new way of doing surgery. Transforming it from a ‘butchering art’ into a proper medical profession. His struggles, set-backs and humiliations along the way help to raise the stakes in this book and make it even more compelling.
If this book sounds a bit boring, you will be pleasantly surprised by the pace, and the colourful and engaging prose. Fitzharris is a delightful writer and she viscerally captures the pungent, rotting and bloody hospitals of the time, in all of their glorious gore with shocking immediacy. She brings to life Lister and his extended family in vivid and loving detail. This is a real treasure of a book and I loved every second of it!
Five stars out of five 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟