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Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  6,447 ratings  ·  909 reviews
Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innova
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published September 4th 2014 by Avery
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Dr. Godot
Jul 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
The readers who will love this book are those who prefer their history presented as fictionalized adventure starring a hero who triumphs over a villain and becomes a Great Man. Such readers will not mind that a great deal of this “true tale” derives from Aptowicz’s imagination: the long description of Mütter’s imagined seasickness during his first ocean voyage, the imagined half-eaten Parisian meals right down to the imagined menu, the imagined smiles exchanged by doctor and patient following su ...more
***4 FULL stars***

What a magnificent biography! This should be required reading material for anyone intersted in pursuing a career in medicine, or just intersted in history - because it's truly immersing and eye-opening.

Though the novel is called "Dr. Mutters Marvels", it's not only about him - but also about the many other doctors whom he'd worked with and had been inspired by throughout his life. Mainly, however, it was about his story and his rise in fame (obviously), and how medicine and sur
M.R. Graham
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I have never before found it difficult to put down a biography. Aptowicz's work is sensitive, informative, and enchanting - a work of elegant prose and loving research. A beautiful book about a beautiful man who, thanks to Aptowicz, is now further protected from obscurity. ...more
Mlpmom (Book Reviewer)
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dtb-book
I can honestly say I have never read a book quite like this one before.

Fiction and fact, blended together so seamlessly that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. To know when something was fictionalized from dramatic sake or because it really happened.

Either way, this book was quite interesting. No, quite fascinating and dare I say, even fun?

Once again I find myself in unfamiliar territory with this read. Something I never would have picked up on my own but truly enjoyed.

I confess that I k
Diane S ☔
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 His parents cherished him as a young boy but he would lose his whole family to illness. Despite this, he would become a fantastic surgeon and although dying early, he would leave a lasting legacy.

Wonderfully told, entertainingly written, the is a story of a man ahead of his time. He believed in cleanliness of supplies, room and person, at a time when doctors would routine pass germs from one person to the next. He would discover the use of ether as a pain reliever, at. Time when surgery was
Shappy Seasholtz
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever been to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which houses one of the largest collections of medical oddities in America, it is more likely you will walk out of the museum with your head full of questions such as "Why did that woman turn into soap?" and "How did that guy walk around with a 300 pound colon?" However, you might not ask yourself, "Who collected all of this weird, freaky stuff and why?" and that's what Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's new book seeks to answer.

Who was Thomas
A few years back, the hubs (then boyfriend) and I visited the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, because I'm kind of morbid and curious like that, and it was something to do. For such a small museum, it was packed with interesting bones and tools and casts and molds, as well as the stories behind them. It was fascinating, as well as somewhat sad, to think that these were artifacts from real people who existed... and were considered "monsters" because of a fluke of biology, or an accident, or simply ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was somewhat familiar with Dr. Thomas Mütter, the famed 19th century Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, whose personal collection and funding led to the creation of The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which is my favorite museum of medical history. However, after reading Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's fascinating and compulsively readable biography of Mütter I realized how little I knew about him, and how influential he was to the develop ...more
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most excellent book!
Written in a way that draws in the reader, as with a beloved mystery, this non-fiction book compels the reader forward with brilliant use of language and creates an accessibility for the laymen that isn't in any way "dumbed-down".
While having been fascinated by the Mutter Museum and its treasures, I had no idea how many contributions Thomas Mutter made to modern medicine, including the most basic hygiene in an era where germs had yet to be discovered and contagions were consi
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
This should be a mandatory reading for anyone in medical profession. Wonderful story of a man whose determination and talent created and transformed field of surgery and medicine. Now I want to go to Philadelphia to see his museum.
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
WOW!!! This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. Cristin's writing style is unsurpassed. Filled with stories and facts that can easily boggle the mind, Cristin lays it out so fluidly and effortlessly. Easily followed and understood, the reader is captivated by each and every page that follows the life of Dr. Mutter and those around him. Definitely a book that deserves to be on everyone's shelf! ...more
Joanne Moyer
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Extremely interesting story of a man not many have probably heard of. Dr. Mutter practiced medicine, or practiced what was called 'medicine' in his time, during the mid to late 1800s. This was a time when cleanliness apparently was not considered close to godliness, doctors saw no reason in washing their hands between treating patients, or cleaning their instruments between surgeries, which not surprisingly, caused a lot of pain and death of patients rather than healing them. Dr Mutter was one o ...more
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable read. Mutter's career saw many big changes in medical theory and practice, and the author celebrates his role in championing plastic surgery for the deformed and burn victims, the use of anesthesia, germ theory, and the importance cleanliness; the author also argues that his compassion and insistence that patients be treated with dignity and decency were perhaps his greatest legacy, for many of his students went on to great things. Today he is best remembered for the surgic ...more
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A highly readable biography of the seemingly kindest doctor I've ever heard about. This is also a great overview of innovation in early American medicine. If you can't handle descriptions of surgeries, then I wouldn't recommend this. I found them harrowing at times, but appropriate and helpful in understanding what early medicine looked like. I wanted to visit the Mutter Museum before, but I want to see it even more now! ...more
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adultnon-fiction
I've said it before and I'll say it again - thank goodness for modern medicine! I visited Dr. Mutter's museum in Philadelphia years ago and would love to revisit it now that I know more about his life, contributions, and philosophies. ...more
Lisa Shafer
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

This is very good narrative non-fiction.
Before my copy arrived, I read a couple of the negative reviews posted on Goodreads, and I was concerned. However, now that I have read Aptowicz's book, I find I disagree with most of what these negative reviews say.

I really enjoy narrative non-fiction done right. But that is what this is: narrative. If you want only historical facts presented textbook-style (which I also enjoy, by the
Allen Murphey
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Exhaustively researched and fifteen years in the making, Cristin Aptowicz’s biography of Dr. Thomas Dent Muller, 1840s and 1850s Philadelphia surgeon and teacher, is much more than a narrow biography. Aptowicz paints detailed portraits of Philadelphia society, of the early state of American medical training, and of the conditions of Western medicine before the Civil War. Mutter began his surgical career before anesthesia, before the infectious causes of disease were even guessed at, and when 20% ...more
Josh Caporale
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I visited the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia twice, both when I was in the eighth grade. The area where I had the most interest was an exhibit titled "When the President is the Patient," which had to do with abnormal medicine pertaining to the U.S. Presidents and contained such features as a tumor removed from Grover Cleveland's jaw and a piece of Charles Guiteau (who shot James Garfield)'s brain. The museum itself is a collection of anatomical items, keepsakes, and other related items t
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
I got this book thru the Early Review program on LibraryThing and Gotham Books. It is generally the biography of 19th Century plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Mutter, but it is also a history of the dawn of modern medical schools in Philadelphia.

I had never really heard of Dr. Mutter, except for the museum that bears his name. (A very eclectic medical collection that I would like one day to visit). The book documents his quick rise at the Jefferson Medical College as both a professor and wunderkind of
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A lot of people, especially ones with a bit of a macabre turn of mind, have heard of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. It’s a medical museum, filled with skeletons, body parts in jars, and engravings of surgeries. But collection was not meant to be some sensationalist tourist stop; Mutter’s collection was for teaching medical students by showing them what diseases looked like in the body so they could recognize it. He felt it was vital that specimens like these be available.

Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter w
We are taken through the biography Dr. Mutter and early stages of medicine. The legacy of "marvels" that are housed in his museum are from patients that were learned from at the hospital school and his practice. While they are a curiosity to our eye and mind, these were real people that sought the last chance of help from Mutter. We learn of his bedside manner, empathy, and sympathy of his patients.

We discover how the early Philadelphis hospital was formed, his colleagues, predjudices, biases, a
Heather Bales
Not only a beautiful retelling of the life of one of medicine's brightest and most sympathetic souls, but a lovely remembrance of how he went on to shape the face of modern medicine after his much-too-early death. I particularly enjoyed the tracing of his effects upon the lives of his students and how they, in turn, fathered institutions and practices that further cemented Mutter's impact on medical history, not just in his lifetime, but changes that still ripple through how we view medicine, an ...more
Kara Jorgensen
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Creative nonfiction at its finest. Aptowicz creates a story that is not only riddled with facts and insights about 19th century Philadelphia and its medical community but entertaining and spirited.
As someone who has visited the Mutter Museum and was enthralled with the rather extensive morbid collection of diseased bones and unusual tissue samples, I came into the book expecting a rather Gothic tale but was pleased to find a well-crafted tale about the museum's namesake and his influence on the
I'm going to Philadelphia at the end of the month, and already planned on visiting the Mutter Museum - so when I saw this in the nonfiction new releases section of the library, I knew I had to read it! I'm very glad I did. This is exactly in my wheelhouse - narrative nonfiction (think Devil in the White City) - and I was enraptured from page 1.

This book does a fantastic job of presenting a living, breathing historical figure, while also fleshing out the times and places through which he moved.
Dennis Mitton
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Buy this book now. If you have any interest in science, medicine, oddities, or general woo and weirdness you will love this book.

Thos. Mutter has been quietly hailed by medical types for years as a forward thinking and flamboyant early practitioner. Born in 1811 when there was little difference between medicine and manning the butcher shop Mutter got his license and then sailed to France to watch the best for a year. He returned to Pennsylvania with an umlaut in his surname and a swagger in his
Jul 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Let me start off by saying that I received this book as an ARC Goodreads Giveaway.

Aptowicz's biography proved to be a delightful read. In Dr. Mutter's Marvels she examines the life of Thomas Dent Mutter, a brilliant plastic surgeon in 1800's Philadelphia. Besides innovating the Mutter flap that would be used for over a hundred years after his death he also was among the first to successfully use anesthesia during surgery. Most importantly for his patients he understood the concept of cleanlines
Meredith Allady
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was not what I expected--it was much better! From the cover and the description I went in thinking it would probably be vaguely creepy (and that I probably wouldn't finish it). Then I started it and was surprised again by the format--lots of illustrations and "filler" pages that looked attractive but mainly added bulk but no text, so that I began to feel as if I was reading "biography lite." Fortunately, the writing itself is so good that I was sucked into the narrative despite my preconcei ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this biography of Dr. Mutter and his medical discoveries, mainly in the surgical aspect of medicine. Prior to this, I had only known of the museum that the College of Physicians of Philadelphia opened when bequeathed Mutter's specimens prior to his death. He was actually a very compassionate doctor, championing the use of anesthetics when others in his college were against them and actively campaigned against them. He did facial reconstruction in those who would be forgotten or maligned ...more
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
his is, hands-down, the best biography I’ve ever read. It’s an intimate glance into history, medicine, change, and compassion. It’s the finely crafted life story of a man that we should know, but sadly, many of us don’t. But that’s about to change, thanks to the hard work of writer, researcher, and poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz in her new book, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels.

We interviewed Aptowicz to find out the backstory - read more about her research and writing here:
Sep 05, 2014 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Wanda by: Melki
5 SEP 2014 - spied on Melki's update.

Check out the Museum here --

28 DEC 2014 -- the author, a lovely pixie of a young woman, appeared in a televised interview on PCN today. How absolutely excited she is to talk about her book and the subject matter. Hope this link works

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FRES Community Reads: First Impressions 4 14 Sep 21, 2015 12:25PM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz 1 16 Feb 08, 2015 08:15AM  

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Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is an American poet who was recently awarded a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.

She is the author of five books of poetry, including the recently released Everything is Everthing (Write Bloody Publishing), as well as the canonical slam history, Words in Your Face (Soft Skull Press), which U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote “leaves no doubt that

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“Although Liston was renowned for his success stories—such as the removal of a forty-five-pound scrotal tumor in four minutes; prior to the operation, the poor patient had been forced to carry his scrotum around in a wheelbarrow—he also developed a reputation for the flamboyancy of his surgical failures. For instance, his joy at amputating a patient’s leg at the thigh in less than three minutes was hindered greatly when he realized he had also inadvertently sawed off the patient’s testicles. And perhaps, most famously, another leg amputation performed in less than three minutes had the unfortunate result of killing three people: the patient (who survived the surgery but died of gangrene several days later); his young assistant (whose fingers he accidentally sawed off during surgery and who would also later succumb to gangrene); and “a distinguished surgical spectator” whose coattails Liston also slashed. The man, who found himself surrounded by geysers of blood, was so convinced that the knife had pierced his vitals that he immediately “dropped dead from fright.” It was later described as “the only operation in history with a 300 percent mortality [rate].” 4 likes
“There is scarcely a quality which so much dignifies human nature as consistency of conduct -- and no weakness more deplorable than that of instability.
Examine, choose, compare, reject, but having once made your selection of profession, stand by your decision.
Difficulties, and privations, and hardships, must be encountered; but determination will overcome them all.
And not only sloth and folly, but even genius will be outdone by perseverance.
It often is the case that he who can endure the most is in the end the most successful.”
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