Tuesday 7 November 2023

November Book Tuesday

This month's great review comes from VSA member Marian Gibbard!

The Victorian Society of Alberta

The Butchering Art:
Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

by Lindsey Fitzharris

Published:    2017
Time Period: 1850-1875 

To fully appreciate modern medicine, it is helpful to have some understanding of historical conditions.  The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris will, without a doubt, leave you with a deeper regard for the current system, no matter what its flaws may be.

The book follows a young medical student, Joseph Lister, through his developing career as a surgeon in England and Scotland at a time when neither anaesthetics nor antiseptics were well known. The reader is introduced to the bloody and brutal realities of the Victorian operating theatre where a patient's odds of surviving surgery were low, and the odds of surviving the recovery wards were even lower.

Simultaneously fascinating and horrifying, this is not a book for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. The sights, sounds and smells of Joseph Lister’s world are, not infrequently, deeply disturbing and the author does not hesitate to acquaint the reader with uncomfortable realities. Even so, a sense of compassion and empathy is apparent - the author is a clinical observer, unflinchingly describing horrific injuries and their treatments, but always aware of the underlying humanity of the patient and never crossing over into becoming merely a voyeur, revelling in the blood and gore.

I would recommend this book, but with caution - not everyone will appreciate the somewhat gruesome subject matter.  I think this book will leave anyone with a deeper appreciation for the good parts of the modern medical system, and a feeling of deep relief that things could be so much worse.

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