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

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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 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 into medicine and history via the operating theatre. What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery? From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today's sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history, and a modern anatomy class for us all.


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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 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 into medicine and history via the operating theatre. What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery? From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today's sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history, and a modern anatomy class for us all.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    India M. Clamp

    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/from surgeons---like Gawande---at the height of their careers offering a clear, frank “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, direction and suc 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/from surgeons---like Gawande---at the height of their careers offering a clear, frank “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, direction and such is conveyed in neon-colored delineation painting vibrant verbal pictures not easily forgotten. Under The Knife is a non-fiction book by surgeon Arnold Van De Laar, my version was translated from Dutch and narrated by a non-Dutch/non-surgeon named Rich Keeble. Under The Knife, cranks out some famous accounts of surgery and is ‘the history of surgery in 28 remarkable operations’. Dirty origins from “Lithotomy Surgeons” to the surgical mavens using precision via technological advancements we are fortunate to have today. The book is a true voyage through human body, opening up wide the ways (in the surgical theatre) things go terribly awry and what genius is called/paged/texted to solve issue or put an end to it. If gore is not for you, pus or sayings in Latin are vulgar things, then do not read this. Nasty, nefarious and pus-filled adventures are told in a ‘macabre’ trudge down the path and the read feels like getting the wind knocked out of you. This review is my latest in surgical streak and truth shines rather brightly in the gutter. Starts out with a frustrated Dutch man (who performs surgery on himself in 1651). Author is a surgeon in Amsterdam which means most deliciously that he imparts the details in a raw, clinical and straight forward manner on a most intelligent and fluid conveyance using tools like words, phrases in Latin, photos and intonation in non-monosyllabic way lacking idiocrasy. Organization is commendable, and first case is our President (John F. Kennedy) another is George Washington (as we know, they both die) yet the details give us a clear surgical picture of what happened before clinical death. Cases from bullet wounds to fractures and gangrene, to obesity and anal fistula’s; the gamete of common surgeries is thoroughly covered. Under the Knife (is nakedly honest) imparts “technicolor” surgical lessons and most will find the surgeons descriptiveness unappealing and garish yet it’s told with clinical accuracy and becomes a colorful artistic masterpiece---as if Van Gogh was involved. Buy it, brilliant read, listen and visuals.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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 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 as a result of the operations performed on them, or, in one case, because of an operation an individual performed on himself. As the subtitle suggests, the reader learns how a number of operations were originally done and how they are generally carried out today. Before discussing each case, the author takes the reader through some basic regional anatomy. Valuable sidebars in each chapter introduce key medical concepts— inflammation, primary and secondary healing, etcetera. Perhaps this sounds dry to you. I assure you it’s not. Illustrations and photographs are occasionally included, but I wish there had been more. From time to time, I did an online search and watched a video of a procedure I had trouble visualizing. All in all, a terrific book!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Grumpus

    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 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 words, as one interested in this topic would hope and expect. All of the following chapters have unique historical stories of how the operations were handled at the time vs. how they would be handled today (again, thankful to be living in this time) as well as a medical explanation of how things are supposed to work. You will find something of interest in these chapters and you will learn something. Recommended. 1. Lithotomy 2. Asphyxia 3. Wound Healing 4. Shock 5. Obesity 6. Stoma 7. Fracture 8. Varicose Veins 9. Peritonitis 10. Narcosis 11. Gangrene 12. Diagnosis 13. Complications 14. Dissemination 15. Abdomen 16. Aneurysm 17. Laparoscopy 18. Castration 19. Lung Cancer 20. Placebo 21. Umbilical Hernia 22. Short Stay, Fast Track 23. Mors in tabula 24. Prosthesis 25. Stroke 26. Gastrectomy 27. Anal fistula 28. Electricity

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    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 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 accessible to the lay reader. I loved the premise of this book and thought Arnold van der Laar wrote very concise explanations. I do think it is a book better read in short chunks rather than sitting down and reading it in one sitting - it can become quite dry and repetitive. However, by reading it a few chapters at a time, it did become a very enjoyable book. Recommended for anyone interested in general history or surgery.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Law

    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 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 the benefit of hindsight the unhygienic conditions that prevailed for so long may horrify, as will recurring treatments such as blood letting. For centuries surgeons and doctors were regarded separately, each developing their skills but rarely working together. Progress was sometimes accidental with a key observation or new practice ridiculed by peers until accepted by a high profile patient. “in the Middle Ages common sense was obscured by tradition. Rather than looking at the results of their actions, our medieval forefathers would follow what some great predecessor had written in an ancient book.” The Hippocratic Oath, historically taken by medical students as a step towards qualifying as a doctor, used to contain the line ‘I will not cut for stone’, implying that such dangerous practices as lithotomy – stone cutting – should be left to experts. The first operation detailed in the book involves a Dutch man who ignored this advice and, in desperation, cut out his own bladder stone at home. It was larger than a chicken’s egg and somehow he survived. The formation of such stones is explained as is the more standard operation to remove them and how this has changed over the years. Bladder stones are caused by bacteria. What was once an everyday complaint is now rare. Treatment for asphyxia – problems with breathing – is then explored by detailing treatment of a very famous patient following a shooting – President John F. Kennedy. As we know he did not survive, following in the footsteps of the first president of the United States, George Washington, who suffocated after his doctors refused to perform a tracheotomy – a cut into the windpipe to allow air into the lungs. This and similar treatments are described along with when and why they may be needed. Further chapters cover other common complaints: wound healing, including reasons for circumcision; shock, which in medical terms means a failure of the blood’s circulatory system; obesity and its complications, recurrent amongst popes over the years; fracture; varicose veins and other problems caused when our ancestors decided to walk on two legs; peritonitis, which killed Harry Houdini; narcosis and the introduction of anaesthetics for which Queen Victoria was thankful; gangrene; aneurysm; castration; hernia; stroke and more. Bob Marley died because his religion forbade him from accepting required treatment. Alan Shepard became the fifth man to walk on the moon thanks to a placebo. Lenin suffered multiple strokes throughout his life, the causes and effects of which likely contributed to making him the tyrant he became, although he may have been felled due to lead poisoning from a bullet that remained in his body following a shooting years previously. As well as detailing key operations, methods of diagnosis are discussed along with complications that can arise due to surgical error. Successful surgeons can become much sought after, especially by those willing and able to pay. Michael DeBakey was one such man in the twentieth century. Described as a maestro by his famous patients he enjoyed to the full his reputation and fame. Nevertheless he dismissed an assistant’s concern during an operation and did not follow through when the patient, the deposed Shah of Iran, developed worrying post operative symptoms which ultimately led to the former leader’s death. “great surgeons can sometimes make a mistake. Complications are, after all, part and parcel of operations and the risk of problems can never be counted out, no matter how great you are.” Each of the twenty-eight chapters offers a fascinating insight into surgical developments and subsequent treatment. They are written with sympathy and wit in a style that enables lay readers to understand and learn more about doctor’s reasoning, vernacular and limitations. For anyone interested in little known medical issues suffered by the famous over the centuries, in how their own body functions and the work of those who may be called upon to keep it going, this is a well structured, digestible, recommended read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Avid

    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 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, professional ways to depict surgical situations without deliberately attempting to gross out the reader. I have read other medical/science authors whose written tratment of their subjects was professional and informative, even entertaining (paul kalanithi, abraham verghese, atul gawande, mary roach, et al). This author may be a fine surgeon, but he’s not a good writer. I found this book to be unreadable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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 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 #NetGalley

  8. 4 out of 5

    iz

    dense and a bit unorganized but still really enjoyable. a new favorite nonfiction book that provided a lot of insight into the history of surgery and surgeons, while still managing to be funny and informative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    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 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 this is why X happened!". 100% recommend.

  10. 4 out of 5

    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 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 are errors as the books are often still proofs. Sometimes there are formatting issues or the text may contain notes betwen the author and copy editor, which is all quite interesting. In the case of this book there were so random asides that spiralled away from the main point that I decided to check out a final copy from the library. I felt like I was reading an unfinished draft and wanted to make sure I was reading what the author intended. However, the news was not good. I checked where I had read up to on my kindle, found the corresponding section in the book, and discovered I had arrived at the chapter titled ‘Anal Fistula’. So far, so horrifying. The first paragraph has a sentence which says ‘King Louis XIV...was, in James Brown’s words, like a sex machine.’ Now, like me, you may be wondering what King Louis XIV has to do with James Brown, and Dear Reader, you will not be surprised to know they have sweet F.A. to do with one another. The section doesn’t even provide very much information about Louis’s sex life, if indeed he was a sex machine. Throughout the book there are strange comments like this. It’s as if the author is trying to make a joke, but it doesn’t quite work. Stick to the pertinent information Mr Author Man, there aint nothing funny about anal fistulas or getting your foreskin bashed off with a sharpened stone. True fact. There seems to have been a recent boom in medical books aimed at the general reader, both memoirs and books about particular aspects of surgery. Unfortunately this is not up there with the best of them. I’m disappointed, and quite frankly surprised that this book made it to publication in its current state.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Harbir

    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 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 explore the area of surgery and medicine. It was a very informative read and i thoroughly enjoyed it on paper and audible.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nima Morgan

    very fascinating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This is REALLY good. I loved it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    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 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 parents and my sister are in different aspects of health care. Plus again, the back-back-back burner novel I mentioned in my last review involves a surgeon and two surgeries (though neither type of surgery was described in this book). Van de Laar provides a very casual introduction to different kinds of surgery throughout history. Very casual--there are no citations in the text, a few of the chapters aren't actually about surgery, and I wasn't totally clear on why the chapters were arranged in the order that they were. Chapters on John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald were at opposite ends of the book. One chapter about diagnosis actually talked about fictional detectives, which seemed a bit like pandering to a popular audience to me--and the fact that van de Laar talked about the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle had medical experience but failed to mention that Doyle's mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, was actually the one with observational techniques that inspired Sherlock Holmes' style of deduction felt like a major omission. Bell would have been a more interesting focus for the chapter than fictional detectives--not even doctors! It also stings that in the era of the #metoo movement there's not a single female surgeon described in this book. Surely women must have made some valuable contributions in the history of surgery. Since a couple of the chapters aren't actually about surgery, then off the top of my head I would say that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu would be worth a mention for her work in bringing inoculation against smallpox into Europe (read the excellent The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox for more information about her). Finally, the book is definitely written for a non-U.S. audience: some medical vocabulary is European rather than American (the large intestine is the "great intestine", and it's "paediatric" rather than "pediatric" for example); and Celsius and meters/centimeters are used instead of Fahrenheit and feet/inches. I mean, it's only fair, given that the U.S. is a special snowflake that does things differently from the rest of the sensibly Metric world, but on the other hand, this is a U.S. edition... But the historical anecdotes were interesting and amusing. I may have a tougher stomach than some, but there were certainly some graphic depictions of diseases and operations that had me making funny faces on the subway--to the amusement, I sometimes noticed, of my fellow riders. I may have also had too much fun reading any operation on male genitals to the S.O. in my life. The book got its revenge his behalf with the chapter on Queen Caroline's umbilical hernia. Overall, this was a fun and fluffy history of surgery...but definitely not a good source to cite for any kind of academic writing. And now, time to stop procrastinating and get back to homework!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    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 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 history of surgery. You will learn as much or more about history as about the surgical subjects. The chapters are intriguing and rather short, so it works well to have small sessions in the life of a busy person. I, however, consumed the entire thing in a few sittings. My kids were on school break, and we spent a lot of time reading by the fire in the cold Alaska winter. There is even a bonus - a delightful epilogue about surgeons in science fiction, each illustrating a serious point that relates to the real world. I appreciate that he included educational text-boxes throughout, which educate the uninitiated about various medical topics. Unbelievable first work doctor Van de Laar! Did you have it ghost written by Mr. Kurlansky? If not, you did a really fine work. (It reads in the spirit of Salt, Cod, Milk, The Big Oyster, etc)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    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 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 can deal with when it is in a state of shock. The chapter on Narcosis is also fascinating and how it links to Queen Victoria really puts the issue in context for the reader. Throughout the book are useful text boxes giving you a further depth to the area the chapter is focused on that really adds to the understanding of the book. Covering a range of topics from Anesthesiology to Sutures that really add to the topic you are reading about. A well presented and brilliant read for the medical history nerd in your life, Under The Knife is a cut above the rest (I’m sorry). (I received an ARC from Netgalley for a honest review).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Avarla

    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. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Em Meurer (emcanread)

    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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    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 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 common sense and took a lot of investigation before it could get a foothold and change the face of medicine forever. While this book had some interesting cases, the writing was terrible. There was not any real complexity to the history and advancement in surgical technique and knowledge. Toward the end of the book, there was a sentence about how women were largely kept out of the study of medicine. I remember thinking to myself, "Ah ok, he was saving his critical thinking for the end. Maybe I will give this 3 stars instead of 2. " But, in a flash any mention of women in surgery was gone. Why even bring it up if you are going to not even do it the justice of glossing over it. What is mentioned in this book doesn't count as glossing over or even an after thought. What was the point? Really disliked this book. It made me think I was at a party, forced to stand next to someone who was annoyingly arrogant, and I was cornered and could not walk away.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amaia

    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 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 pathogenesis of certain maladies due to our biped position explaining the increase of hernias (both abdominal and spinal) and peripheral artery disease, and why the ostium of the great saphenous vein is the first to be incompetent, the vivid portraits of surgeons operating fast - a trait still existing and fighting arduously to abolish it and replace it by quality- (as patients were held by assistants in order not to run) and the greatest trait of being a surgeon in those days: a quick and good horse to remove him from the situation as soon as possible :) I admire his courage, a trait of an excellent surgeon, to reprimand bloodletting as unforgivable and intentionally inflicting a fatal wound, treat as grotesque the mantua dresses or openly criticise Billroth, the god of surgery himself, on his ill temper or bad decisions.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Angela C

    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 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 that were so obvious it made me laugh. I kept telling my husband about the new things I was learning; the different kinds of gangrene, the reason men were castrated, how they did it, the history of appendicitis. My favorite parts of the book were the details about the health problems and surgeries of royalty, most of which were completely unsuccessful. While it may seem that this book should read like a textbook, I can say it definitely did not. One thing I would’ve liked the author to delve into would’ve been the history of cesarean sections, since that is the one surgery I myself have undergone. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and found the depth of this author’s research astounding. *thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book!*

  22. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    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, 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, and then leaves it at that. Knowing how surgeons performed this operation differently on men and women sounds really fascinating, and it's a real shame neither the author or the editor seemed to pick up on that. Unfortunately, this is a theme repeated throughout the book. We get a whole chapter on male circumcision, but something like cesareans aren't even mentioned. It makes the "History" part of this title a bit of a let-down - something more inclusive and well-rounded would've made me enjoy it a bit more.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vivek Kulanthaivelpandian

    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 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 research on each of the subjects, incidents etc to construct each chapter. Not even a single dull moment in this entire book. One of the books I savored after a long time. If you area a fan of micro-histrory, Surgery, medical history or anything borderline macabre, this is a must read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    Absolutely fascinating and written with the clinical precision of a surgeon in understandable layman's terms! My only complaint would be that this is a totally male dominated book on both patients and surgeons. Although this isn't necessarily the fault of the author (it it wholly recognised that medicine, up until recently, used to be a male focused practise and most female medical workers have been left out of the history books), he only uses two paragraphs right at the end of the book as a sid Absolutely fascinating and written with the clinical precision of a surgeon in understandable layman's terms! My only complaint would be that this is a totally male dominated book on both patients and surgeons. Although this isn't necessarily the fault of the author (it it wholly recognised that medicine, up until recently, used to be a male focused practise and most female medical workers have been left out of the history books), he only uses two paragraphs right at the end of the book as a side note to mention women. He sites some interesting and notable periods of history containing female surgeons, however, it clearly wasn't fascinating enough for him to create an entire chapter on it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dyah Puspitarani

    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. 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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    5H3MS

    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

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    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. 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    Amazing. Edifying. Everything I like in a doctor who is also a good writer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leah K

    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.

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