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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  3,453 ratings  ·  347 reviews
In an era when bloodletting was considered a cure for everything from colds to smallpox, surgeon John Hunter was a medical innovator, an eccentric, and the person to whom anyone who has ever had surgery probably owes his or her life. In this sensational and macabre story, we meet the surgeon who counted not only luminaries Benjamin Franklin, Lord Byron, Adam Smith, and Tho ...more
Paperback, 342 pages
Published September 12th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published April 10th 2005)
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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  3,453 ratings  ·  347 reviews


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John Blumenthal
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Terrible title that makes it sound like a bio of Jack the Ripper’s cutlery-obsessed sidekick but an utterly fascinating story about a virtually unknown 18th century surgeon named John Hunter, who was arguably one of the most innovative medical researchers in history. Yes, he paid criminals to dig up graves and steal cadavers for him, but as a result of his work on dead bodies, he knew more about the human body than any man alive and used his knowledge to cure people at a time when bloodletting w ...more
India M. Clamp
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Year is 1785 and one of the first patients to see Mr. Hunter had a tumor the size of a bowling ball on the side of his head. Fortunately, it was benign. The tumor was so large no other surgeon would operate except John Hunter. Thus 25 minutes later patient Burley left with a little scar sans 9 lb. useless appendage that Hunter had expertly evacuated.

Surgeon John Hunter was the youngest of ten children. Hunter used the scientific method in his practices and thus demonstrated the interconnectedne
...more
K.
Trigger warnings: lots and lots of medical stuff and anatomy and dissection and weird experiments on animals that end in them dying.

So this is a biography of John Hunter, eighteenth century surgeon. It tells the story of his life through cases that he worked, experiments he performed, and discoveries he made that revolutionised medicine forever. In an era when most doctors still relied on bleeding and purging as their core treatments, Hunter - despite being a surgeon, not a doctor - was all "Ye
...more
Wealhtheow
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: someone who wants to read about a real-world Stephen Maturin
John Hunter rose from a poor Scottish farming family to become one of the leading men of science and medicine. His courage (he inserted a knife's point covered in pus into his urethra to see if syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease! omg!), his lack of hypocrisy (in an age when even surgeons, who relied on dissections, refused to let their bodies be disturbed, he actually requested an autopsy), and his clear-sighted reliance on evidence instead of assumptions and tradition helped him trans ...more
ⓐⓥⓡⓔⓔ ☞ The Bookish Blonde
A book that makes you grateful to experience medicine as it is TODAY!

3.5 Stars

I’m a huge fan of medical non-fiction and the history of medicine so naturally I gravitated toward this title. I will say this wasn’t my favorite that I’ve read on the subject and it’s a bit early of a timeframe for what I typically am fascinated by, I prefer mid-to-late 19th century medicine, but there were definitely a lot of fascinating details strewn throughout this book and…others that were of a rather disturbing
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
A very engaging biography of a fascinating figure: despite being largely self-educated, John Hunter was an intellectual giant who pioneered experimental surgery and applied the scientific method to medicine in a time when most doctors put more stock in ancient texts than verifiable observations. Hunter extensively studied the anatomy of humans and animals through thousands of dissections, and even seems to have been moving toward his own theory of evolution, though his writings on the subject we ...more
Christie
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, science
An excellent combination of a compelling narrative of a most influential scientist with the evolution of the practice of surgery and medical science. Ms. Moore has artfully told the store of John Hunter and his rise from the son of a Scottish farmer to a pioneer in medical and anthropological studies. While there are many extremely graphic scenes conveyed to the reader, they are necessary to gain the appreciation of how barbaric some of the acceptable practices in medicine were at the time. This ...more
Jenny
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great nonfiction book, recommended to me by Goodreads. I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter of the book. John Hunter was a fascinating man with an interesting history and interesting views. Moore describes his life as if writing a novel about a unique protagonist. Her writing is descriptive and engaging. She drew me in from the very first words: "The patient faced an agonizing choice." I especially liked the clever chapter titles, all named after the body part of a human or animal tre ...more
Haytham
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Well, I am at least underwhelmed. The life of John Hunter is a really peculiar one. He had changed the concept of surgical management and via his abnormal background and lack of normal medical background, at that point of time, he managed to get rid of the myths which ruled surgical practice in the 18th century. However, Wendy Moore managed, somehow, to put this amazing time line in a very boring manner. I've, with much difficulty, managed to finish like half of the book. I actually couldn't pus ...more
Wendy
If you are at all interested in biology, surgery, the Enlightenment, and aren't particularly squeamish, do yourself a favor and read this one. John Hunter, who plied his surgical trade in what we now think back on as the dark ages of medicine, revolutionized his field (and the natural sciences in general) by emphasizing observation, experimentation, and the application of scientific evidence. Common sense as this sounds, gathering evidence and acting on it was not what was expected of physicians ...more
Ashley
Sep 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
This guy has the coolest nickname ever. Therefore you should read this book.

Ok, ok. So basically John Hunter is a total stud. He nonchalantly invented or paved the way for some very necessary surgeries, was one of the first to realize, "Hey, maybe we should really have these medical students study human anatomy in detail before we allow them to cut people open," AND he actually did research and used trail and errors with his patients instead of just relying on the prevailing folk remedies and "
...more
Cupcakes & Machetes
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
You know you’ve worked in the medical field for awhile when you can read about gonorrhea and syphilis on your lunch without losing your appetite. Some people may count that as a negative, I count it as a positive. It takes a hell of a lot to ruin my lunch.

For myself, this was very much a one chapter at a time read. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s not even too text book like in any matter. The stories are fairly fascinating and John Hunter was a character, there just wasn’t the pull to dig i
...more
Jamie Collins
This is a very fine biography of John Hunter, the fascinating 18th century surgeon who applied scientific methods - reason, observation and experimentation - to the field of surgery, at a time when his contemporaries were still studying the theories of the ancient Greeks and surgical techniques had changed little since medieval times.

During the course of his medical career Hunter would dissect thousands of human cadavers, stolen from London’s graveyards because there was no legitimate way to obt
...more
Helen
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The world clearly needs people like John Hunter, people who push boundaries and go that much further in the pursuit of knowledge. Reading this made me so grateful for the advances of modern surgery and dentistry. And now I have an urge to read medical and natural history journals, and expand my mind!
Betule Sairafi
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: surgeons?
When other people make mistakes, it’s because they’re morons who should’ve listened to John Hunter. When John Hunter makes a mistake, it’s normal, that’s just what people were like then, they didn’t know any better, it’s okay let’s jus get over it and go back to insulting the other idiots.

Moore is extra reverent of her subject, almost insinuating that he can Do No Wrong! Even so, this book is full of a bunch of Cool Things. I almost wish I was John Hunter, except for the part where I intentional
...more
Charlene
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Knife Man is a rather unfortunate title and is probably partly why this book wasn't really at the top of my reading list. It ended up on sale, along with The Butchering Art, through Audible.  If not for that sale, I probably would have skipped this one. that would have been a mistake. While it's not quite as spectacular as The Butchering Art, which tells the story of Joseph Lister's life, it is almost as good. Reading a biography of John Hunter seems long past due. I remember that back in co ...more
Richard
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: so-glad-i-read
Wendy Moore's history of John Hunter, the almost cult figure who was, quite simply, a full advocate of the scientific method and thus not only the grandfather of modern surgical techniques but also an early proponent of evolution, almost a hundred years before Darwin, is a fascinating and enlightening read.

I picked up this book because I have an almost obsessive fixation with the ways of ancient medicine--bloodletting and such. Moore's book fully explores the techniques of the time that John Hu
...more
James
The Eighteenth Century ushered in what would become known as the "Enlightenment". A new philosophy of progress was proclaimed by intellectuals throughout Europe. They proclaimed that Reason would create a better future; science and technology, as Francis Bacon had taught, would enhance man's control over nature, and cultural progress, prosperity and the conquest of disease would follow. While Condorcet's vision is still not complete, Wendy Moore's biography of Dr. John Hunter, The Knife Man, cap ...more
Paul
Jun 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
When I was 19, I had an appendectomy. My mom, when she found out, was a bit scared (aside from the fact that it was surgery) due to the fact that a family member of hers, who had the same operation done on them years before, died from complications resulting from the procedure.

If it wasn't for John Hunter, with his emphasis on a scientific approach to surgery, where one assesses their mistakes and errors and then tries to find a way to change or correct them, then I probably would not have benef
...more
Marguerite Kaye
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Where to start with John Hunter? To call him a polymath doesn't do him justice. A pioneer anatomist, a surgeon who believed in the power of observation and physical examinations in an era when most physicians thought anything 'hands on' was vulgar, and a man who probably saved more lives by refusing to operate in an era that didn't understand the basics of hygiene. Among many other things, he pre-empted Darwin, was a founder member of the Coleege of Veterinary Surgeons. pioneered more operations ...more
Mel Campbell
I found this book absolutely fascinating, and was boring people at parties with tidbits from it for months afterwards. John Hunter was best known as a surgeon and anatomist, but he also innovated in dentistry, zoology, and many other branches of scientific enquiry.

He was a marvellous polymath, doing everything from developing revolutionary surgical procedures to infecting himself with venereal diseases in order to experiment with cures. And he amassed an incredible private menagerie and museum
...more
Spencer
Jun 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
This was a fascinating book about John Hunter, an anatomist, naturalist, surgeon, scientist, archivist, and innovator, who lived in England in the mid to late 1700s. In an era when bloodletting was the medical cure for most sicknesses, Hunter's fascination with biology/medicine and his incredible work ethic, drive, and insatiable curiosity drove him to make a remarkable number of discoveries, advances, and improvements in understanding anatomy, physiology, pathology etc. Along the way, he amasse ...more
Robin
Nov 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent biography of John Hunter, who is considered to be the father of modern surgery. He was never given the title of Doctor, oddly enough, because surgeons were not considered physicians, though from what I can tell from the book, John Hunter was a lot more effective than any of his so-titled colleagues. This book is very detailed and includes illustrations and pictures depicting a selection of Hunter's anatomic preparations (he was England's most experienced anatomist, meaning h ...more
bup
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
By the rules of non-fiction books, there must be a subtitle - and this one's a doozy: "Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery." Our protagonist is a likeable underdog, too - not formally trained, not much for book learning - but as pure an adherent of the scientific method as anybody. More-so than his physician contemporaries, in fact, who were still adjusting humours as the ancient Greek texts taught them.

The book is a nice mix of body snatching escapades, Mary-Shelley-worthy di
...more
Dawn
Absolutely and completely fascinating story about medical pioneer John Hunter. It seems to be that war and unscrupulousness were essential to the early innovators of the medical and dental practices of the eighteenth century, practices that still relied much on the ancient Greeks for their knowledge and methods.

Deadly experiments, body snatching at an alarming rate and some truly inventive individuals made this time in medical history fascinating and dangerous. And John Hunter was right in the
...more
Sharon
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Don't be misled by the either the title of this book or its chapters. While they all sound sensational and are apt to grab your attention, this is a serious biography of John Hunter and the history of medicine and surgery in the 1700's. I found it a fascinating look at both, and came away with a great respect for Mr. Hunter as the "Founder of Scientific Surgery".
Andrew
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Never ask me what I have said, or what I have written; but if you will ask me what my present opinions are, I will tell you.
~p173

Wendy Moore has written a wonderful, virtuosic biography of John Hunter. The man was a tour de force, and a pre-eminent figure in medicine, surgery, obstetrics, geology, evolution, and didactic style, at a time when the Enlightenment was emerging from the darkest ages of medical understanding. It is astonishing what the medical profession did not know in the mid to lat
...more
Pamela Mclaren
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ever wondered when medicine made the leap from superstition and ancient ideas based on something called "humors"? Well, this is the book that shares how that happened; when "surgeons" took on the task of finally looking at the human body and exploring its depths for clues to disease and injury to advance how doctors should treat and cure patients.

In Wendy Moore's capable hands, we learn not only about the world of medicine in the 1700s but are introduced to the maverick explorer into the wonders
...more
Michelle
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating book—I had no idea that one person made so much progress for medicine! I wondered if I might be squeamish, but somehow Wendy Moore's excellent writing made it all very interesting. It's odd that I'm mad at people who aren't even alive anymore because of the way they restricted him or tried to steal his ideas. Now I'm anxious for 2020 to come (the Hunterian Museum is closed until then).
Susan Gallagher
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
"John Hunter" is now and forevermore my answer to the question, "If you could meet one historical figure...?"
Wow, was this guy ahead of his time. Passionate about biology and anatomy, and seemed genuinely likeable too. By the end of the book I felt like I knew him so well, I actually got a little choked up when he died.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Wendy Moore worked as a journalist and freelance writer for more than 25 years. She has always been interested in history, and as a result, began researching the history of medicine.

The Knife Man is her first book.
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