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Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,483 ratings  ·  203 reviews
In Under the Knife, surgeon Arnold Van de Laar uses his own experience and expertise to tell the witty history of the past, present and future of surgery.

From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder to Bob Marley's deadly toe, Under the Knife offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights i
Paperback, 357 pages
Published January 11th 2018 by John Murray (first published 2014)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  1,483 ratings  ·  203 reviews

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Canadian Reader
Van de Laar, a Dutch laparoscopic surgeon, is a charming, witty, and erudite guide to surgery, and his book is a treasure trove of historical, medical, and anatomical information for curious and not-too-squeamish lay people. I understand that the book grew out of a regular column the surgeon wrote about historic surgical cases for a medical journal. Van de Laar mostly focuses on procedures performed on famous individuals. Some of the people who populate the pages of Under the Knife became famous ...more
India M. Clamp
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Books flood my box, they arrive in electronic, online formats and traditional (hardback/paperback) forms. The majority are written by surgeons on the verge of retirement and others from surgeons---like Gawande---at the height of their careers offering a clear, frank and “in your face” experience of the quotidian surgical struggles faced. It is a thoroughly engaging prefatory journey. Through personal experience (20 years) I find most surgeons are not only skilled with a knife but with words, dir ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, audiobook
I love this stuff...medical history. It makes me thankful everyday for living in this time. Our ancestors must have been extremely tough people. Between disease, infections, wars, and starvation, I am continually amazed how any of us are here today. We are certainly a resilient species.

This book covers some interesting historical operations. Other reviewers mention the graphic descriptions as a negative. I thought them very necessary and described and explained in a most medical manner--in other
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-medicine
This was a very interesting look at some of the notable operations throughout history, and the impact they had on the development of surgery as it is today. 'Under the Knife' describes itself as a history of surgery, but it is more accurately a history of particular surgeries - especially those on important or otherwise famous individuals. These surgeries covered a wide range of conditions and surgical disciplines, and each was incredibly well explained, with surgical terminology made very acces ...more
Jackie Law
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Under the Knife: The History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations, by Arnold van de Laar, offers an eye watering, riveting, always accessible account of surgical techniques and development from biblical times through to the present day. The operations detailed focus on well known names – figureheads, tyrants and celebrities – as well as the medical practitioners who pioneered new practices, mostly without anaesthetic. Along the way technical terms commonly used by doctors are explained.

With th
Aug 25, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For two reasons, i was unable to finish this book. Most importantly was the quality of the writing. It reads very much like a high school science report, including liberal use of the second person singular (eg: “, All you need is something sharp,...”) which, IMHO, is unacceptable in published non-fiction writing.

Second, descriptions of wounds and procedures were, i thought, gratuitously graphic. I was expecting some graphic descriptions from a book about surgeries, but there are tasteful, profe
Literary Redhead
As a former medical writer, I was intrigued by this history of surgery described by a laparoscopic surgeon through 28 famous operations of notables including JFK, Louis XIV, Houdini, and Einstein. How far we’ve come from blood letting to today’s robotic procedures, and the author takes us right into the operating suite in its various iterations over centuries. 4/5 stars

Pub Date 02 Oct 2018

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine.

#UnderTheKnife #NetGa
Do you wanna know more about why a prostate is called a prostate? Why we use anesthesia the way we do today? How we operate on limbs, bones and heart? The history of many medical procedures and the social/cultural environment in which they arose? Look no further than this book. With a clear hand and a good sense of humour, van de Laar invites you into a world of curiosity and respect for and towards the surgical world. I love books like these, from which I can get my dose of: "oh I had no idea t ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is more aimed at the people who want to know whether medicine/ surgery is their field that they want to go into, It gives brief insight into past surgical methods and more recent discoveries. It covers some famous cases in which i did not know certain things had occurred when i had studied these cases in my forensic lectures. Yes it was written very briefly but it was not written "badly" like most people o0n here seem to be saying, it is aimed at more a junior reader who wants to explo ...more
Nima Morgan
May 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
very fascinating.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is REALLY good. I loved it.
Patrick O'Donoghue
I was granted this book on #netgalley and have been dipping in and out of it on my way to work. Let me tell you, reading about ruptured bowels, amputations, circumcision and bloodletting first thing in the morning certainly put me off my breakfast. It’s also quite terrifying to realise all the things that can go wrong with your body, through no fault of your own. Anyone who has ever watched Embarrassing Bodies on Channel 4 knows exactly what I mean.

Sometimes when I get books on netgalley there a
I've been on quite a nonfiction kick this year, haven't I? Anyway, usual disclaimer: opinions expressed in this review are my own and do not reflect those of my employers.

I picked this up mostly for fun and fast reading, and because the short chapters suit my current mood (overwhelmed by doing a master's program in the evening while working full time, and in need of a quick escape from the glare of the computer screen before bed). Plus I am interested in popular medical books because both my par
This is fantastic book and I have to give some great respect to Arnold Van de Laar. (Why not Van de Laar, MD? He's a surgeon, but aren't surgeons doctors in the Netherlands, or are they just more humble when they write books?) The text is extremely entertaining and delightful, often resulting in uncontrolled laughter by the reader. He really did his homework. Hemakes historical connections between various unlikely characters in the book, showing a lot of thought went into the coincidences of the ...more
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs
I do love Medical History (I even studied it, thank you GCSE History!) and I knew I would find this book a fascinating read and I wasn’t let down at all as Van De Laar gives us chapter after chapter of how medicine and surgery has changed but also most well known examples of their use.

The chapters that particularly captured my attention were the chapters on Shock near the beginning of the book and the story of Empress Sisi which is both interesting but also incredible, thinking what the body ca
A quick and entertaining read, although barely scratching the surface of surgery's history. It is highly interesting to see how much surgery was done in times before anaesthetics - and how often surgery failed due to terrible hygienic conditions. If you want a quick overview over the history of surgery and the most performed operations, this works fine. For more in-depth, you'll want to find something else after reading this, as I'll do now. ...more
Em Meurer
The history of surgery told through case studies.

There are so many better books about the history of surgery out there. The thing that bothered me the most in this book, however, was the fact that women’s contribution to the history of medicine and surgery was relegated to the very last few paragraphs. A horrible ending to a not great book.
Jul 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: medicine
I cannot believe how many good reviews this book got. I bought it at the same time as The Knife Man (bad title, great book) and the Butchering Art. I read both of those books first and loved them, to an extreme degree. Then I read this. The author said that no one back in the early days of surgery had any common sense. If it were common sense, then most common people would have sensed that they should wash their hands prior to coming into contact with a wound. But the germ theory was not at all ...more
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing

For a surgeon, the history of his own practice should be essential. The book has almost no informational element to a doctor, as med school and post-grade usually get us through thousands of pages of surgical techniques, physiopathological mechanisms and the like. But it must be really interesting for someone outside this world.
What I liked is the view on why certain illnesses developed at some historical points in time explained by the lack of hygiene, clean water or refrigerators, the pathoge
Angela C
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really love reading medical non-fiction so this book was right up my alley. I used to read medical records for my job so I have read a lot of operative reports for various orthopedic and neurological procedures, not that that makes me a doctor. I also loved the tv show The Knick, which this book also reminded me of, except the book covered the entirety of human history, not just the early 1900s. This book was packed with so much medical information, including the reasons for many medical terms ...more
Fun and interesting book! My one disappointment is the lack of women discussed throughout the books - patients and surgeons alike. Even the procedures mentioned are focused quite intently on how they're performed on men. The chapter on bladder stones, for instance, notes that, a few centuries ago, this affected both men and women quite severely, but after describing the actual procedure the surgeons of the day used to remove them, the book simply tells us that this procedure only worked on men, ...more
Vivek Kulanthaivelpandian
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, micro-history
I am always fascinated by anatomy and surgery. This book is a feast for non medical professional like me who loves to learn about medical history and surgical procedures. What is more interesting is, this book showed the human vulnerable side of celebrities/historical figures via their ailments and injuries in details (Some times way too detailed which I liked) and the surgical procedures they underwent . Author being the subject matter expert in surgery has also done some extensive historical r ...more
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Each chapter tells the story of a medical issue or procedure. This is much more interesting than it sounds. Many of the chapters are built around really weird stories of historical figures. The most interesting chapter was about bladder stones! Some chapters are less interesting but easy to skim. The chapters are short and the the medical history is wonderful. There is a lot of really gross stuff too.
Dyah Puspitarani
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A compelling book about medical history, easy and fun to read. The author was able to take us to each surgery settings of the famous cases such as JFK, Einstein, Houdini. My favorite one would be the chapter 23, Mors in Tabula, where he explained the surgery of Lee Harvey Oswald in such intricate details. As a medical student, you can enjoy these stories that made you go "ah that's where it came from" especially when you consider a lot of medical terms and their eponyms. ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great read! this is exactly what I like, history and science and history of science ;) interwoven together in one book. And of course the etymology of words that are used in modern medicine that helps understanding the word we use in daily life.

Must read for biologists and historians
Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
I tended to skim over the descriptions of the actual surgeries- not out of squeamishness, but because I just wasn't interested in the procedures themselves, just in the histories. I'm sure grateful to live now. ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Edifying. Everything I like in a doctor who is also a good writer.
Leah K
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
An interesting look at surgery through the ages. I felt like some stories were a stretch to get to the point of a chapter and the epilogue felt out of place. A fun, quick read.
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book, the best I've read so far on the subject. Very informative and also intertaining. The surgeries are discussed in very fine details, be ready for some gore. I loved it! ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book that would satisfy anyone curious about medical topics (myself included). I do think there was something missing. You can tell it's written by a medical professional and not a journalist or professional writer. At points, it's a bit dry.

I was also baffled by the epilogue, which briefly talks about women in surgery. Why weren't women surgeons mentioned at all throughout the book? Unless I'm misremembering, I can't recall a single mention of women doctors throughout a
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