The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One thing that inspires me to utter “Thanks be to God” is to be born after the age of butchering, so to speak, without the use of anesthesia during an operation or any invasive surgical procedure. And never forget a bottle of Listerine that has become a household name. In consideration of the aforesaid, the preeminent triumph of medical science in the west is arguably the invention of antiseptic methods that has saved thousands of lives. The linchpin of this epochal achievement in the history of medical science is Joseph Lister, an English Quaker surgeon whose dedication to the profession was wonderfully interacted with his altruistic character and diligent pursuit of knowledge in his profession. The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris enlightens the reader about the macabre world of nineteen-century surgery and its progress by advancement in antiseptics pioneered by Promethean Lister.
In this highly entertaining and informative book, Fitzharris guides the reader to Lister’s medical path with fittingly concomitant case history of surgery, hospital care, and germ-theory, all of which essentially contribute to his advocation of antiseptic methods in post-operative treatments. The author’s vivid illustration of the horrifying surgical procedures before the advent of anesthetics is not surely for the faint-hearted, but it is an axiomatically effective means to introduce the reader to the staging of a young medical student named Lister, who was solemnly determined to prevent a patient who endured such demonic pains from dying aftermath due to the persistent infection caused by putrefaction of germs in the operated area. Fitzharris’s employment of in-between vignettes about his contemporaries, family members, and others who influenced Lister both personally and professionally also intends to provide the reader with a variety of causes that led Lister to his dedication to the championing of antiseptics in the applicability for precluding unnecessary deaths of patients. She does it all with her consummate narrative skill that grabs the reader’s attention on every page.
Although this book is about Joseph Lister and his benevolent medical munificence to humanity, it is hard to strictly categorize it as biography because it does not purport to deify him with an Olympian laurel wreath. Rather, the book is focused on the magnificence of scientific triumph over human frailty, which is achieved by a collective effort to find the sine qua non thereof on the principle of betterment for humanness. Fitzharris does an excellent job of delineating this collegiate endeavor to make human life better by reconstructing Lister as a practical idealist with a vision to match in his revolutionary invention of antiseptic methods based upon a scientific theory and his zeal for continuous pursuit in learning of knowledge. Drawing on a wealth of research on the subject and her erudition, Fitzharris creates polyphony that intelligently interweaves multiple strands of her learning. This is a scintillating read that educates the reader on the history and science without a bore.