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

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  9,732 ratings  ·  1,209 reviews
In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery on the eve of profound transformation. She conjures up early operating theaters--no place for the squeamish--and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery wa ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 31st 2017 by Scientific American
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Nancy Lister does experiments with frogs, and operates on a horse and a cow to test different sutures but most of the gruesome stuff is about the wounds, tu…moreLister does experiments with frogs, and operates on a horse and a cow to test different sutures but most of the gruesome stuff is about the wounds, tumors and suffering of people which I assume is something you are OK reading about. (less)
Alexander Tomic Hi. I am an Orthopedic Surgeon. The book was recommended to me by a colleague who considered it enlightening on historical medicine lacking in medical…moreHi. I am an Orthopedic Surgeon. The book was recommended to me by a colleague who considered it enlightening on historical medicine lacking in medical school. Having read it, I agree. Although appropriate for all medical students, I think it will be more enjoyable by a surgical fellow as he can better relate to terms and procedures mentioned in the book.
I thought it might be me, or my medical school lacking in the subject of History of Medicine, but the subject came up on a large medical meeting and there was no contest when I cited the book and facts depicted.
So, in conclusion, yes, it would be appropriate for a medical profesional interested in the history of our practice.(less)

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Julie
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris is a 2017 Scientific American/Farrar Straus and Giroux publication.

Ghastly, but fascinating!


In 1846, as surgery became more frequent, deaths occurred more often as well, due to sepsis, and a myriad of other infections, promptingJosheph Lister to examine the prospect that germs, dirty surgical tools, and hospital cleanliness were to blame.

Lister’s antiseptic theories were ground
...more
Erin
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dr. Joseph Lister became a surgeon in a time in which Germ Theory was considered "Fake News". 19th Century surgery was crude, bloody, painful, and almost always fatal. 19th Century surgery was barbaric. Hospitals were commonly known as death houses and something to be avoided if you had any money. Surgeons didn't wash their hands, tools, clothing, or hospital beds. It was quite common for a surgeon to conduct an autopsy and without washing anything use those same tools to operate on living patie ...more
Jamie
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My hardback copy is here!
I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this through NetGalley, and seriously, the second I finished it, I went and preordered it. This is one of the best and my favorite books of the year!
Even though I just read this, I'm already rereading this.
In short, This book really delves into the Victorian surgery practices and thanks to Joseph Lister, for forever changing what we know about surgery today. Seriously highlighted and now tabbing seems like half of the book. S
...more
Rebecca
(3.5) Surgery was a gory business with a notably high fatality rate well into the nineteenth century. Surgeons had the fastest hands in the West, but their victims were still guaranteed at least a few minutes of utter agony as they had a limb amputated or a tumor removed, and the danger wasn’t over after they were sewn up either: most patients soon died from hospital infections. The development of anesthetics and antiseptic techniques helped to change all that.

Fitzharris opens with the vivid and
...more
Stephen Robert Collins
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If about to go into Hospital for big emergency operation & you are really shitting bricks? Congestions you have chosen the perfect bedside read if wore not scared before then just what you need to put you at your easy .
A book about what happened to be in the 19th century theatres 'the gateways to Death ' . In this the year of 70th anniversary of NHS this book shows what the Labour government after Winston Churchill lost the election & WWII helped to bring forth.
This about Joseph Lister a Quaker
...more
Book Riot Community
When is it a better time to read a gruesome history of medicine than right before Halloween??? Fitzharris spares no details documenting Joseph Lister and his campaign to teach the medical profession that germs really existed. (Before Lister, doctors didn’t wash their hands or their medical instruments all that often. Blergh.) It’s also an illuminating look at a profession one looked upon with skepticism, a profession that often relied on graveyards to supply their knowledge…

Backlist bump: Cranio
...more
Meagan ✊🏼 Blacklivesmatter ✊🏼Blacktranslivesmatter
#5 out 12 for my non fiction goal for the year
So far I've been on track with reading one non-fiction book per month. Let's hope I can keep this up!

This was really good. I read a similar book called Quackery by Lydia Kang and it amazes me the crazy shit these surgeons used to do to people. I couldn't imagine being sick during this time period. The medical field has definitely come a long way in such a short time.

Seems like I'm into history of medicine and the medical field. I will probably pick
...more
Netta
We live in the world changed, challenged and improved by many people whose stories left untold or, way too often, unheard. We praise those who let us the opportunity to explore stars and distant galaxies, we cheer those who cured smallpox, we are awed by those who contoured the map of our world and gave names to all known species. And yet how much do we know about oh so many seemingly smaller discoveries which, in retrospect, made a bigger-than-life impact and changed the quality of our lives fo ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, own, science
Audio # 50

So while you're reading you'll become fascinated and want to share with others who will find you ghoulish
People around you may protest the audio version
Sometimes you may find it hard to finish your lunch while you're reading
Roisin Cure
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brother of mine had an advance copy of The Butchering Art and was going to send it to my daughter - his goddaughter - as she has a taste for the gory, and has expressed an interest in studying medicine. "Not so fast," I said, "I think I'll have that." So he sent it to me.

Is there a word that is the opposite of genocide? That's what Lister did.

The Butchering Art is the story of how one man - who stood on the shoulders of giants - transformed medical operations from something of enormous risk i
...more
Jill Hutchinson
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
The title of this book is so appropriate for the surgical environment of the mid to late 1800s.......going under the surgeons knife could almost guarantee that the patient would die. Limb amputation seemed to be the craze for anything from varicose veins to a broken ankle and surgery was performed in the most unsanitary of conditions. Most patients died of sepsis. But the medical community could not or would not grasp the reason for the onset of infection and was loathe to accept such a concept ...more
Rachel
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 rounded up. I found the bits about medical procedures and treatments fascinating (and alarming). Doctors were doing some pretty grisly, backward stuff, essentially groping along in the dark trying to save lives and ending many in the process (although infection would probably have done the job anyway). Joseph Lister is one of the scientists who shined a light and helped lay the foundation for modern medicine. We've come a long way, and it makes me wonder how far we'll go in the future, what ...more
Jaksen
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I pick up a book just based on the title or the cover. I don't know why I grabbed this one, but glad I did. A fascinating look into medical science circa the 1800's into the early twentieth century. Amazing stuff.

You don't need to have a medical or science background to follow this book. The writing is down-to-Earth, solid, succinct, and specific only when it needs to be. I do have a science background, but I learned a lot about history, medicine, surgery, contagion, epidemics, and so
...more
Paul
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2018
Surgery prior to the nineteenth-century was brutal and messy. There was no anaesthetic and therefore the best people in the business were the fastest who could remove a leg from the hip in just one minute; yes one minute! Occasionally the knives and other tools were wiped before being used on the next victim, I mean patient, but were often not. Tables were normally covered in the blood and gore of the previous unlucky patients and if the shock of the operation didn't kill you, then the infection ...more
Andy
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was nicely written with a Dickensian level of detail. I feel it got bogged down though with background research. It's not until page 160--out of 234-- that Lister even starts working on antisepsis. To me, especially with the science denialism going on in the world now, the most interesting aspect of the story is how Lister convinced people to apply Pasteur's Germ Theory to surgery. Unfortunately, this content is shorter and more rushed than I was hoping for. We're told about major speeches ...more
Nancy
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 20.04.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: A+++
Review: This is a riveting read.
I read it in one day.
First few pages squimish but keep reading!
Highly recommended.
Erin *Help I’m Reading and I Can’t Get Up*
Mostly interesting, though it gets a little snoozy in the middle
Becky
A couple years ago I listened to Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine and loved it. I don't know why but I find the history of medicine and surgery utterly fascinating. Revolting and traumatic and horrific... but fascinating. These books are NOT for the faint of heart or the squeamish... but I loved them nonetheless.

There was a lot of overlap in this book with Dr. Mutter's Marvels. I was regaled once again with the story of Robert Liston pe
...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
If you’ve ever used the bright blue or green mouthwash with the antiseptic taste, then you have benefitted from the expertise of Joseph Lister. More importantly, if you’ve had surgery in a spotlessly clean operating room with a surgeon gowned and gloved up, you owe that to Joseph Lister. Lindsey Fitzharris tells his story The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine.

Lister began his surgical journey at a time when the two most desired qualities of
...more
G.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reality-slash-history is gnarlier than fiction.

The Butchering Art is a great read. It's not for the squeamish, but if you want to know how hospitals evolved from houses of death into healing institutions, I couldn't recommend this enough.




Truman32
Dec 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The 19th century was a pretty gross time to be alive. To begin with, nobody knew about germs. Just imagine it, all those bare pimply Victorian era bottoms sitting on public lavatory seats without laying down a thick protective covering of toilet paper first. Ick.

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris digs into this time period like a 19th century leech collector would dig through the fecal sewage overflowing the Thames river seeking new merchandise to sell. Fitzharris’s nonfictional account f
...more
Laura
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I could say a lot of things about this book but by far the most prevailing revelation I had was that it totally changed my idea of what kind of world the Samantha stories from American Girl took place in.
Meaghan
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-review, own
I am in love with this book. Based on the description, I figured I would like it, but it is even better than I imagined.

I have been told by others that I should have been a doctor. I do have a knack for diagnosis and I am not squeamish when it comes to household wounds. I’m the one you want to do surgery to get that splinter out. But I really had no interest in lots more years of school or dealing with people (ugh!) all day. Basically, I wanted to be like House and just solve the puzzle but stil
...more
Graychin
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m afraid that my wife and I are the only people that ever watched The Knick, which is a real shame. It was an excellent show, a Steven Soderbergh project in which Clive Owen played a drug-addicted genius surgeon at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital circa 1900. The Knick only ran for two seasons (2014-2015). Thankfully, however, the storyline resolved itself nicely at the end of the second, so that you need not feel let down too much by the fact that season three never happened.

There’s a great
...more
Mary Alice
I enjoyed the book, and am glad to know more about Joseph Lister's life and work.

I think Fitzharris should have included detailed definitions of "putrefaction", "suppuration" and "fermentation". I needed more thorough explanations of how these three concepts relate to each other. And I thought that the author could have explained the relationship between Pasteur's work and Lister's work a lot better.

Though not essential, I would have liked a bit more detail of Lister's long marriage.
Yara
While at times it depicted in gruesome detail what medicine and particularly surgery were like during Victorian, England;The Butchering Art by Lindsay Fitzharris is an incredible, engrossing, and fascinating account of how Joseph Lister transformed the butchering art of surgery into an actual science- based practice. Along the way he not only revolutionized surgery but medicine and hospitalization in general. His development of an antiseptic method to treat wounds and help the healing process af ...more
Abigail
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
i would be such a good old timey doctor
Helen
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read. Books like this always remind me of how grateful we should be for modern medicine, we take so much for granted these days. Were it not for people like Lister there'd be an awful lot more suffering in the world.
Navi
This book focuses on the practice of surgery in the 19th century through a societal framework but also specifically focusing on Joseph Lister, a Quaker surgeon. Lindsey Fitzharris discusses the major changes that have taken place to transform surgery from a gruesome, deadly act to the more humane, effective procedure we are accustomed to seeing today. It was so interesting to see how things we take for granted in the modern world would have seemed so crazy or ridiculous to surgeons in the 19th ...more
Babbs
"New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common."
—JOHN LOCKE

An interesting look into surgical care in the 1800's and the rise of germ theory and aseptic techniques. While some passages might be on the gory side for some, the peek into what life was like, and the common perils of the time is worth it.

Surgery's start centered around speed, since pain medication was not a thing, with the top surgeons marked as b
...more
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330 followers
As a little girl, I used to drag my grandmother from cemetery to cemetery so that I could hunt ghosts. Some might say I was obsessed with death from an early age, but I’d like to think I was simply fascinated with the past, and with the people who lived there. Thus began a lifelong obsession with history.

I received a doctorate in the history of science, medicine and technology from the University
...more

News & Interviews

  Tami Charles is a former teacher and the author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made...
27 likes · 41 comments
“The best that can be said about Victorian hospitals is that they were a slight improvement over their Georgian predecessors. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement when one considers that a hospital’s “Chief Bug-Catcher”—whose job it was to rid the mattresses of lice—was paid more than its surgeons.” 9 likes
“The adoption of Lister’s antiseptic system was the most prominent outward sign of the medical community’s acceptance of a germ theory, and it marked the epochal moment when medicine and science merged.” 3 likes
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