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

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4.30  ·  Rating details ·  14,908 ratings  ·  1,744 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
Beverly
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Lister started out as a quiet, self-effacing surgical student, who became one of the most important men in the history of the art. With the help and support of his Quaker father, he began his studies at University College London. Not content with being an ordinary surgeon, Lister wanted to work with and learn from the best in the field. As he moved up in the surgical world, he became sickened and disheartened by the death rate after surgery. No matter how great the skill of the surgeon, m ...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
Johann (jobis89)
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s no secret that I love learning about the Victorian period, so hearing about the progression of Victorian hospitals from smelly and disgusting places where surgeons didn’t even clean their aprons or instruments between patients to the discovery of microorganisms and the introduction of antiseptics was ridiculously fascinating to me. My microbiology-loving brain was having a field day.

I learnt so many interesting facts and tidbits while listening to The Butchering Art. The kinds of facts and
...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
Blaine DeSantis
Aug 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating book, to put it mildly. First time author, Lindsey Fitzharris, is a biography of Joseph Lister who was a pioneer in surgery in Victorian era Scotland and England. She has given us one of the most easy read biographies that I have ever had the pleasure to come across. While Joseph Lister is the star and focus of the book, there is so much to learn about medical practices of the time, and how he struggled to overcome older surgeons belief that "hospital stink" was the reason so ...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
Tara
Apr 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
So that’s who they named that mouthwash after.
BAM the enigma
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, science, own
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
...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
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
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

A solid, if not particularly remarkable, history of Victorian surgery, and the efforts of surgeon-scientist Joseph Lister to develop antiseptic techniques and convince other surgeons to use them. It’s amazing to read now how aggressively practitioners at the time resisted the idea that hand-washing, cleaning surgical instruments and surfaces between patients, etc., might do anything at all to improve their (by our standards) horrific post-op death rates, typically from infections settin
...more
Jim
This is the story of how Joseph Lister pushed the medical world out of the dark ages and into a safer, cleaner modernity. But that’s not really what this book does best.

The New York Times called this book “atmospheric” and I think that’s a perfect description. Fitzharris drops you right into the hospitals, operating rooms, factories, and city streets of the Victorian era. It’s like you are there, and - heads up - that makes for a very, very gruesome read.
Meagan
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
#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
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
Netta
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erin Beall
Aug 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Mostly interesting, though it gets a little snoozy in the middle
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
Amy Imogene Reads
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5 stars

The man behind the English medical community’s discovery of germs and antiseptic practices is at the heart of this incredibly readable work. I couldn’t stop reading it? Loved it.

Readability: ★★★★★
Descriptive Medical Details: Definitely some descriptive situations
Enjoyment: ★★★★★

As someone who often argues against the hypothetical situation "What time period would you want to visit in the past?" with the argument that medical progress (lol, lack of progress) was so terrifying in the past t
...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
Lorelei
Jun 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly interesting and well done. Thank goodness for Joseph Lister! I cannot even fathom having to undergo surgery without anesthesia and with the doc coming at me with old, caked on blood. I love Victorian aesthetic, but I do not envy their hygiene ignorance.
At 234 pages (not including the extensive notes), this was a concise and effective read.
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
Natalie (CuriousReader)
It's worth noting off the bat that this is a biography of Joseph Lister first, medical history second. Fitzharris uses the life of Lister - an innovative Victorian surgeon - to illustrate a broader pivotal point in medical history, particularly as it relates to his ideas of hygiene, germs, and infections in/around surgeries. Lister's life is introduced, his ideas and how they differed from the establishment put forward, and the book reaches its dramatic high when Lister becomes entangled in conf ...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.
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
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.
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I am the author of The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, which won the PEN/E. O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing and has been translated into multiple languages. My TV series The Curious Life and Death of . . . aired on the Smithsonian Channel in 2020. I contribute regularly to The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and othe ...more

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“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.” 13 likes
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is almost certainly wrong. —ARTHUR C. CLARKE” 7 likes
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