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The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy

by Bill Hayes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1846107,869 (3.56)16
"At 150 years old, Gray's Anatomy still sets the standard in medical textbooks, yet little has been written about its author, Henry Gray. Even less celebrated is Henry Carter, the illustrator who brought Gray's groundbreaking anatomy text to life. The Anatomist : a true story of Gray's Anatomy explores the lives of these two men, balancing biographical chapters with the author's own experience in the anatomy classroom, dissecting cadavers and marveling at each new discovery with prose both lucid and arrestingly beautiful: 'Like a pomegranate, whose leathery rind belies its jewel box interior, the kidney is spectacular inside.' Using Carter's diary entries, Hayes recreates an era when medical advances were rapidly changing the way people lived as well as challenging religious dogma, and people turned to science in hope of reconciling the two. Hayes finds emotional resonance in Carter's longing to produce a work of lasting significance, as well as in his deep internal conflicts as a Protestant Dissenter. As Hayes relates his own growing wonder and respect for anatomy, one feels the echo of Carter and Gray's devotion as they worked to create the reference work used by generations of medical students since its first edition was published in 1858. The Anatomist pays eloquent tribute to two masterpieces: the human body and the book detailing it."--Provided by publisher.… (more)
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I read this while Jake was taking a real anatomy class (no autopsy, though). It helped me feel filled-in on the science a bit, but the story was really a great addition for someone without final exams to worry about. ( )
  mirnanda | Dec 27, 2019 |
“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 |
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Bill Hayesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wolfson, LawrenceCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"At 150 years old, Gray's Anatomy still sets the standard in medical textbooks, yet little has been written about its author, Henry Gray. Even less celebrated is Henry Carter, the illustrator who brought Gray's groundbreaking anatomy text to life. The Anatomist : a true story of Gray's Anatomy explores the lives of these two men, balancing biographical chapters with the author's own experience in the anatomy classroom, dissecting cadavers and marveling at each new discovery with prose both lucid and arrestingly beautiful: 'Like a pomegranate, whose leathery rind belies its jewel box interior, the kidney is spectacular inside.' Using Carter's diary entries, Hayes recreates an era when medical advances were rapidly changing the way people lived as well as challenging religious dogma, and people turned to science in hope of reconciling the two. Hayes finds emotional resonance in Carter's longing to produce a work of lasting significance, as well as in his deep internal conflicts as a Protestant Dissenter. As Hayes relates his own growing wonder and respect for anatomy, one feels the echo of Carter and Gray's devotion as they worked to create the reference work used by generations of medical students since its first edition was published in 1858. The Anatomist pays eloquent tribute to two masterpieces: the human body and the book detailing it."--Provided by publisher.

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