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The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's…
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The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy

by Bill Hayes

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“The Anatomist” is an unusual combination of biography, history, memoir and anatomy. Hayes wonders one day who the Grey of “Grey’s Anatomy” was and how he came to write the volume that has been a standard text for over a century. He finds little about Grey- none of his personal papers or effects survives- but he does find that Grey had a partner- the illustrator of the book.

I’d always assumed that Grey had illustrated his book- frankly, I’d never given it a thought. His illustrator turns out to have been another physician, Henry V. Carter. Carter, son of an artist, was trained in drawing before he turned to doctoring. Carter and Grey shared a passion for dissection and anatomy, and were good friends before it ever occurred to Grey to create a new text. A dedicated diarist, Carter has left us a good record of his time with Grey and his anatomy classes, allowing Hayes to fill in a lot of the blanks as to the creation of the text.

In between his discoveries about Carter and Grey, Hayes tells us about the anatomy classes he took. He is allowed to participate in three anatomy classes for medical students and physical therapists in training, including doing dissection. This allows him to get some idea of what Grey and Carter went through to get their educations- although the carefully preserved cadavers of today are a far cry from the putrescent ones that anatomy students had to deal with in Victorian times. Hayes comes away with a new appreciation for the human body and how it all works.

Hayes made no stunning new discoveries, but the path his detective work took him on was interesting. It’s not a great book, but it’s a good one. I actually found myself more interested in the author’s work in the anatomy lab than in the story he’d started out to tell; he is able to give detailed descriptions of the process of dissection without being gross. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Jan 21, 2012 |
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  MsPibel | Nov 6, 2009 |
Thank goodness the writers’ strike is over. Now, I can look forward to a new episode in popular drama, "Grey’s Anatomy." I so miss my McDreamy and McSteamy.

To pass the time during reruns, I picked up "The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy" by Bill Hayes.

For those unfamiliar with "Gray’s Anatomy," it is the quintessential reference book for medical students. In its 20th printing, this tome sits alongside other upper-echelon classic references such as "Webster’s Dictionary" and "Bulfinch’s Mythology." First printed in 1858, this year marks 150 years as a viable medical textbook.

Author Hayes feels his whole life has led him to writing, “a book about a book about anatomy.” He cites two childhood favorite activities. First, his two best friends had doctor fathers who kept their medical books on the top most shelves in their respective studies. The boys would sneak in and pull down favorites then hide under desks mulling over the medical deformities for hours.

The second activity gave Hayes a great power over his sisters. In his 1965 "World Book Encyclopedia," under H for Human Body, there were transparencies which included systems such as the skeletal, muscular, digestive, etc. Hayes took great pleasure in taunting his unsuspecting sisters with "Encyclopedia Man."

While searching the book for a medical spelling Hayes thought, "Who wrote this thing?" The title page gave little more than Henry Gray, F.R.S. or Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons. Further digging at his local library left him discouraged. “Fascinating ‘biographies’ have been written about everything from the number zero to the color mauve, yet there is not one on Gray.”

In Hayes’ research, he discovers Gray’s rise at St. George’s Hospital in London through title changes; “postmortem examiner (1854), curator of the Anatomical Museum (1852), lecturer in anatomy (1854), and so forth.” It is only through Gray’s illustrator Henry Vandyke Carter (an extensive diarist) that Hayes begins to unravel Gray’s personality.

In The Anatomist, Hayes alternates between Carter’s diaries and his own experiences in modern-day anatomy class. I’m not sure what is more interesting, the intimate thoughts of a Victorian medical student or Hayes’ voice as he dissects the human body.

Readers of this book will find themselves counting ribs, poking sternums, and trying to finger their mental foramen during the anatomy class sections, all without the unpleasant funk of formaldehyde. ( )
  maggiereads | Apr 10, 2008 |
The Anatomist was an interesting plunge into one subject (anatomy) and three lives (the author of Grays Anatomy, the illustrator of that same book, and the author of this book). It was not the book I expected when I opened it, but it was nevertheless a very enjoyable read.

What began as a biographical look into the life of Henry Gray, the author of the Grays Anatomy, quickly took two detours. One was caused by the dirth of first-hand sources relating to Dr Gray, a man who died young and whose personal papers were destroyed long ago. Hayes responds by delving into the papers of his collaborator, fellow anatomist Henry Vandyke Carter, whose illustrations graced the pages of the classic textbook. Using Carter’s diary as his primary source, Hayes tells the dedicated and somewhat tragic story of both lives.

The second detour was Hayes' first-hand experience with anatomy. He audited several college anatomy courses during his book research and shared his experiences from the dissection labs. That may not sound appealing, but Hayes makes it extremely interesting. (Anyone who is fascinated by the lab work shown in any of the contemporary forensics-based television shows will feel at home, in fact.) His lab work parallels the Grays Anatomy text and his inspection of various body parts illuminate the wonder that anatomists find in the human body. At times, his use of metaphor is remarkably poignant.

Before the book concludes, Carter’s diary leads to India while Hayes and his partner travel to St George’s Hospital in London (where Henry Gray spent almost half his life). Back home in America, Hayes’ threefold biography comes full circle — again in a most-unexpected way. This was not a pure biography of Henry Gray. It was better.

Find more of my reviews at Mostly NF.
1 vote benjfrank | Feb 24, 2008 |
I thought I would really enjoy this but was disappointed. Instead of reading about Henry Gray you read mostly about the man who illustrated Gray's Anatomy. ( )
  Shnooks | Feb 13, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345456890, Hardcover)

"Hayes’s history of the illustrated medical text “Gray’s Anatomy” coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of its first publication. Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray, the brilliant scholar and surgeon who wrote the text, another anatomist was crucial to the book’s popularity: Henry Vandyke Carter, who provided its painstaking drawings. Hayes moves nimbly between the dour streets of Victorian London, where Gray and Carter trained at St. George’s Hospital, and the sunnier classrooms of a West Coast university filled with athletic physical therapists in training, where he enrolls in anatomy classes and discovers that “when done well, dissection is very pleasing aesthetically.” - The New Yorker

"All laud and honor to Hayes....In perusing the body's 650 muscles and 206 bones, he has made the case that we are, as the psalmist wrote, "fearfully and wonderfully made" and that dissection has an aesthetic all its own. The act of carving open a body becomes, in this context, a perverse act of love, a desecration that consecrates "the extraordinary, the inner architecture of the human form." - The Washington Post

"How do you write a book about someone about whom next to nothing is known? For most writers, the answer would be move on to the next subject. But Bill Hayes has an unusual set of skills. The author of previous books on insomnia and blood, he is part science writer, part memoirist, part culture explainer. “The Anatomist,” his appealing new book about the man behind Gray’s Anatomy, combines his search for the remaining traces of Henry Gray with a memoir of his own experience as a dissection student and a scalpel’s-eye tour of the body." - The New York Times

"Some of [Hayes's] most memorable writing describes the dissection classes he attended in San Francisco. We are treated to a selection of fascinating anatomical snippets about, for example, how to trace evidence of the sealed hole in the fetal heart through which the mother's blood enters; or how to find the kidney in a cadaver; or that blood flowing out of the heart is first used to feed the heart itself; or, best of all, a structural analysis of how the Queen manages to deliver such a uniquely restrained wave." - Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science

The classic medical text known as Gray’s Anatomy is one of the most famous books ever written. Now, on the 150th anniversary of its publication, acclaimed science writer and master of narrative nonfiction Bill Hayes has written the fascinating, never-before-told true story of how this seminal volume came to be. A blend of history, science, culture, and Hayes’s own personal experiences, The Anatomist is this author’s most accomplished and affecting work to date.

With passion and wit, Hayes explores the significance of Gray’s Anatomy and explains why it came to symbolize a turning point in medical history. But he does much, much more. Uncovering a treasure trove of forgotten letters and diaries, he illuminates the astonishing relationship between the fiercely gifted young anatomist Henry Gray and his younger collaborator H. V. Carter, whose exquisite anatomical illustrations are masterpieces of art and close observation. Tracing the triumphs and tragedies of these two extraordinary men, Hayes brings an equally extraordinary era–the mid-1800s–unforgettably to life.

But the journey Hayes takes us on is not only outward but inward–through the blood and tissue and organs of the human body–for The Anatomist chronicles Hayes’s year as a student of classical gross anatomy, performing with his own hands the dissections and examinations detailed by Henry Gray 150 years ago. As Hayes’s acquaintance with death deepens, he finds his understanding and appreciation of life deepening in unexpected and profoundly moving ways.

The Anatomist is more than just the story of a book. It is the story of the human body, a story whose beginning and end we all know and share but that, like all great stories, is infinitely rich in between.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:10 -0400)

Honoring the 150th anniversary of the first publication of the seminal medical text, a study that blends historical, medical, and scientific elements chronicles the work of anatomist Henry Gray and his collaborator, illustrator H. V. Carter.

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