The Butchering Art
Lindsey Fitzharris expertly relates the tale of what is arguably the most significant discovery in the history of medicine, Joseph Lister’s germ theory and antiseptic surgery methods. She does this in a way that deposits the reader in the thick of the muck and mess that was medicine in the Victorian Age. Her chronicle of the personal struggles that Joseph Lister faced in his quest for an outside-the-box solution to the infections that were killing thousands of patients kept me cheering the man on from the edge of my seat. The story of Lister’s struggles to change the course of history and propose ideas that ran counter to the miasma theory of infection is inspiring and, at many points in the telling, touching. This brilliant man worked non-stop, endured lost job opportunities, canceled promotions, disparagement in the press, and lost friends in his quest to drag medicine, and in particular surgery, into the 20th century. He achieved fame as a teacher and surgeon before his discovery, yet he did not just sit back and let the money roll in, he continued to look for a solution to a problem other doctors at the time just took as a given. There is plenty of science in the book to explain how he managed to do this and he was certainly brilliant. But also, there were trailblazing characters alongside him , such as Liston, Pasteur, Syme, and many others, who played a role in his success, showing that this great man did not just pass through history, he was a part of it and made it when he eventually grabbed the reins and guided surgeons kicking and screaming into the modern age. Without Lister’s discovery and refined antiseptic methods the vast majority (very nearly 100 %) of surgeries performed today would be unthinkable. Fitzharris is rousing in her descriptions of history and science and she keeps the reader thankful that mold breaking, tenacious people like Lister appear occasionally in history to shove the human race forward.