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Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and The Haunted Men Who Made It
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Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and The Haunted Men Who Made It

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  253 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Ether Day is the unpredictable story of America's first major scientific discovery -- the use of anesthesia -- told in an absorbing narrative that traces the dawn of modern surgery through the lives of three extraordinary men. Ironically, the "discovery" was really no discovery at all: Ether and nitrous oxide had been known for more than forty years to cause insensitivity ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 31st 2001 by Harper
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Mar 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Ether Day tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the men who were involved the invention of ether. The subject matter is fascinating - it's wild to think about life before anesthetics and how much medical practice truly changed with stronger solutions to pain. We really take for granted that anesthesia is safe and accessible.

There's a heavy focus on the legal aspects of the discovery - if you're interested in the history of patent law, this'll be a great read for you - and also the lesser-kno
Kyle Wendy Skultety (
This review originally appeared on my blog at

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

ETHER DAY is meticulously researched; the characters are brought to life via the detailed descriptions of their lives and mental states.

To think that people were operated on with no care for their pain, yet Laughing Gas (ether) was used by non medical people for fun and escape, is mind boggling. No one made the connection between the two until William Morton, Horace Wells,
Really interesting... was psyched that on page 5 they introduce William Morton as one of the men responsible for figuring out how to use ether for surgery since Morton is a family name and there's a chance he's a distant relative.

Until they reveal that he was wanted in 5 states for fraud and spends the whole book trying to get credit for something he likely didn't have much to do with discovering. I have to admire his gumption, at least... go Mortons! Luckily he didn't kill anyone.

Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Having read about 30ish books for my Writing class about the discovery of anesthesia, this has to be one of the most interesting out of them all. Even for someone who isn't interested in science, dentistry, etc., I think this book would still be compelling. ...more
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting historical perspective on the discovery of anesthesia especially considering all of the other famous people involved, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel Morse.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
This showed up in a monthly library magazine and caught my eye. Had to be ordered through inter library loan and came from Western Pennsylvania. A slow sometimes monotonous read. I found the medical history a bit tedious at times but informing. What I find interesting is that Ether is a preferred gas well into the 21st century.
Dec 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book by American Heritage magazine columnist and New York Times contributor Julie M. Fenster is a remarkable account of the history of modern anesthesia (a word assigned to the procedure by no less than the estimable Daniel Webster) and the lives of the men who worked to gain its acceptance in the medical world.

Fenster has a wonderful dry wit, which comes in handy when describing the antics of William Morton - the mountebank and physician manque who aimed to make his fortune selling an ora
I quite liked this book, unexpectedly lent to me. Having read a fair amount of non-fiction history, I thought the author did a pretty good job at bringing the main characters to life. Ether Day was almost a minor role in what played out for many years between the men who wanted to be acknowledged as the person who introduced ether to the medical world. The stories of the men and their personalities were quite vivid and surprisingly dramatic. The story of ether was also a surprise, as I had been ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first heard about this book on NPR in 2001. The story was fascinating, a conman dentist made one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern medical science and no one has heard of him. Plus, there's this endless feud between the various men who claim the discovery and its effects on the establishment, in both science and class, and the monetization of medicine. The sell was great. I remembered the author's name for weeks before I bought the book, where once purchased it sat on a shelf for ...more
Apr 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who has had surgery, has an interest in medicine or history, or just likes to know stuff
Ether Day is a fascinating look at the history of anesthesia. (even if you’re not an anesthesiologist…) Think about it, the first clinical use of general anesthesia in the surgical arena was just over 150 years ago. This is an amusing and educational look at the history of what is arguably the most important medical advancement in the history of mankind. This book will interest anyone who has ever had surgery, plans to have surgery, has an interest in medicine or history, or just likes to know s ...more
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really liked how the author was able to take the facts from history and make it a very readable and almost fiction like story. I really enjoyed reading the book as well as gaining that knowledge in this way. I felt near the end it got repetitive and boring but that was partly because of how the men's lives ended. ...more
Aug 02, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical, nonfiction
Fairly interesting -- a tangled tale about three men, all of whom claimed the invention of ether. The book interweaves the tale of the three men with information on surgical procedures of the time. Needless to say, the development of anesthesia was an incredible boon. I'd have preferred more medical information, however, than biographical information. ...more
Meg Marlowe
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 12
One of the BEST books I ever read! Julie M Fenster also scored big with Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President. Just such riveting writing. This is a just a little masterpiece though: while learning history, we also delve into the human psyche, it's dark penchants and addictions. Just fabulous! ...more
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating tale, well researched with just the right depth of topic. The structure was not the smoothest but only distracted very slightly from the story arc. A brief and interesting look into the world of invention and medicine. Worth the short read.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The strange but wonderful story of how ether began the revolution of anesthesia in medicine. Thank goodness dentists were willing to try it! A great controversy surrounded who developed it too. Definitely an interesting but approachable read.
Michelle Mclain
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it
"Whenever it is that self-abandonment is no longer natural but must be induced, childhood ends..." -referring to Ether parties held commonly in the early 1800s. ...more
Jul 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
interesting read...especially if you have just come out of surgery:)
Dennis Ross
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of anesthesia; a selection for my science book club Oct 2012.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everything I expected, but so much more.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting and informative read.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Heard about this from Radiolab. An interesting medical, historical and sociological tale.
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was absolutely fascinating. Kids had ether parties, not drinking parties.
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Entertaining! Not as dry as I thought it'd be. ...more
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-medical
An interesting medical history with plenty of human drama and eccentric characters. The story did drag a bit toward the end as I began to lose interest in the three men's interminable efforts to claim credit for this amazing discovery. My opinion? All of them deserve the credit, and a few more! Despite the initial (and unending) chaos, the discovery was made and we can all be thankful for that!

A recommended read.
May 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Not as interesting as I'd hoped that it would be when I purchased it. The book devolved into controversy between three men who all claimed to have invented ether. ...more
Eric Means
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Dec 16, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Apr 13, 2016
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Jan 01, 2019
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Jun 09, 2017
Michael Miller
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Aug 17, 2017
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