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The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and…

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery (2005)

by Wendy Moore

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5212229,436 (4.15)41



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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Fascinating, and frequently gruesome, story of the man who more or less singlehandedly revolutionized surgery and medicine. John Hunter refused to accept the traditional style of surgery, which was apparently to cut while reading the instructions from classical medical men - Galen and Hippocrates, both of whom worked on theory more than fact. Hunter insisted on observing what was actually going on in the body - which meant graverobbing to get corpses to autopsy, among other things. He also dissected every type of animal he could get his hands on, including many exotics brought back by explorers or out of various (mostly private) zoos. According to Wendy Moore, he perceived the same relationships among animals (including Man) that Darwin did some sixty years later - but a combination of religious limitations on publication and the actions of his assistant, who took all his papers and apparently destroyed a good many, kept his discoveries from being known. It's a biography, so it has a sad ending; in this case, the ending is also really annoying, as said assistant did his best to wreck everything Hunter had created. It's an illuminating look at a person and a situation I knew little about. I hope Moore has written and will write more books. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Dec 31, 2017 |
Blood, Body Snatching, and the birth of modern surgery
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
John Hunter rose from a poor Scottish farming family to become one of the leading men of science and medicine. His courage (he inserted a knife's point covered in pus into his urethra to see if syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease! omg!), his lack of hypocrisy (in an age when even surgeons, who relied on dissections, refused to let their bodies be disturbed, he actually requested an autopsy), and his clear-sighted reliance on evidence instead of assumptions and tradition helped him transform surgery and natural sciences. From a farm boy with an unfashionable accent he became the chosen surgeon of such luminaries as Lord Byron, Benjamin Franklin, and William Pitt the Younger. Unfortunately, he poured all his money into creating an incredible natural history museum, so upon his death his family was left destitute. Additionally, his brother-in-law stole his papers in order to steal his ideas and ensure that Home, not Hunter, got the glory of the discoveries.

Moore weaves together the zeitgeist and scientific theories of the time with the facts of Hunter's extraordinary life. His story is fascinating, and her writing is lucid and energetic. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
had never heard of John Hunter. Seems like a cutting edge guy. love people who challenge the status quo. ( )
  bermandog | Dec 31, 2015 |
This was a bit of an interesting read that takes you back into the late 1700's and headfirst into the medical fields where surgery is starting to emerge from the barbers as a more prestigious field. And in the middle of this transition into scientific thinking and experiments and modern surgery is John Hunter.

The book was a lot denser than I would have expected just because there was so much information that didn't read as easily as a story would. But that is to be expected because it really is hard to condense a person's life into so many pages. It went from experiment to discovery and back to experiments with bits of John Hunter's life to connect them all. Which was fascinating when I cared about the experiment or didn't realize that Hunter had a hand in a discovery. But at times, it bogged down a bit and I just didn't care about some fantastical freak or strange exotic animal called the giraffe.

But the experiments were quite fascinating, and sometimes the name-dropping was interesting. Such as the knowledge that Hunter treated Lord Bryon, or his writing on whale anatomy would inspire the book Moby-Dick, or that he was the one to use vivid dyes to highlight veins and blood flow, or that he managed to be the first to understand human embryology by dissecting a pregnant lady, etc.

There were so many ethical issues! So many of his experiments would NOT have gone down in modern times. Stealing someone's dead body despite their last will? Pulling teeth from impoverished kids to implant into wealthy nobles? Digging up cadavers, injecting himself with syphilis and gonorrhea for an experiment, etc. My goodness!

But one very interesting thing that I kept noticing throughout the book was how there are still similarities from the late 1700's in modern medicine. Things like publication wars, differing opinions of certain surgeries, the lack of respect between different scientific professions, the disagreement between religion and science, the use of connections to get ahead... I can see a lot of it in the present world as well.

I found myself a little distracted with the title of the chapters because they weren't always exactly relevant to the central theme of that chapter.

Really, it was all very fascinating and quite cohesive, following a chronological flow.

Two and a half stars rounded up to three because it was a good read and I'm glad I read it. I won't read it again because I don't think there is any reason to revisit these experiments. It was enough to know that Hunter was a part of this revolutionary ideas. I've expanded my knowledge and learned something new. The book was interesting, but not enrapturing and completely engaging, so two and a half. But it was good, so I'm putting it up as three.

Only recommended for people who like biographies and a bit of a history lesson - with some interest in the medical field. This is a book for pretty specific interests. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Definitely not for the squeamish, Moore's visceral portrait of this complex and brilliant man offers a wonderful insight into sickness, suffering and surgery in the 18th century.
added by John_Vaughan | editGuardian, UK, PD Smith (Jun 26, 2011)
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I have made candles of infants fat

The Sextons have been my slaves,

I have bottled babes unborn, and dried

Hears and livers from rifled graves

From "The Surgeon's Warning,"

Robert Southey, Poems, 1799
For Peter, Sam, and Susie

First words
The patient faced an agonizing choice. Above the cries and moans of fellow sufferers on the fetid ward, he listened as the surgeon outlined the dilemma.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767916530, Paperback)

In an era when bloodletting was considered a cure for everything from colds to smallpox, surgeon John Hunter was a medical innovator, an eccentric, and the person to whom anyone who has ever had surgery probably owes his or her life. In this sensational and macabre story, we meet the surgeon who counted not only luminaries Benjamin Franklin, Lord Byron, Adam Smith, and Thomas Gainsborough among his patients but also “resurrection men” among his close acquaintances. A captivating portrait of his ruthless devotion to uncovering the secrets of the human body, and the extraordinary lengths to which he went to do so—including body snatching, performing pioneering medical experiments, and infecting himself with venereal disease—this rich historical narrative at last acknowledges this fascinating man and the debt we owe him today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:00 -0400)

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