The Knife Man : Blood, Body-snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery, Paperback Book

The Knife Man : Blood, Body-snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery Paperback

Edited by Brenda Kimber

4.5 out of 5 (6 ratings)

Description

WINNER OF THE MEDICAL JOURNALISTS' OPEN BOOK AWARD 2005 Revered and feared in equal measure, John Hunter was the most famous surgeon of eighteenth-century London.

Rich or poor, aristocrat or human freak, suffering Georgians knew that Hunter's skills might well save their lives -but if he failed, their corpses could end up on his dissecting table, their bones and organs destined for display in his remarkable, macabre museum.

Maverick medical pioneer, adored teacher, brilliant naturalist, Hunter was a key figure of the Enlightenment who transformed surgery, advanced biological understanding and even anticipated the evolutionary theories of Darwin.

He provided inspiration both for Dr Jekyll and Dr Dolittle.

But the extremes to which he went to pursue his scientific mission raised question marks then as now.

John Hunter's extraordinary world comes to life in this remarkable, award-winning biography written by a wonderful new talent.

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Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

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Review by
5

I am not a fan of biographies but I was completely captivated by this book from page one. A fellow Scot like myself, John Hunter created modern medicine and surgery as we know it, as well as being the inspiration for the next generation of artists (Joshua Reynolds), composers (Haydn), writers (Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron and many others) and of course doctors (Lister and Jenner in particular) plus Hunter would be credited with being the inspiration for Dr Doolittle and his house would inspire Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". He would later found the Royal College of Surgeons as well as the Royal Vetinary College. His museum of body parts and skeletons still exists to this very day. He would become Surgeon-Extraordinary to King George III and Surgeon-General of the British Army.But despite all this, Hunter would be despised in his lifetime for his progressive and forward-thinking theories. With his colleagues still practising medicine and surgery from the Dark Ages, Hunter would be cutting up dead bodies, examining the anatomy of the body and discovering how things worked. He would do the same with animals from dogs to elephants to zebras. He would then give lectures to an army of adoring medical students while his scheming brother would steal the body parts for his own private collection.Hunter would eventually become the premier surgeon in London, treating rich and poor with his modern ideas. He was the first to do autopsies on dead people, he invented methods which basically invented defibrillation of the heart (electric shocks) and artificial insemination to help a woman conceive. He would work for free with poor people while buying their dead bodies from the graveyard later. He was obsessed with immortality and whether it was possible to obtain it.This book is extremely fascinating. Hunter basically started what we consider today as day-to-day straight forward common surgery. If it wasn't for John Hunter, surgeons today would still be doing blood-letting and induced vomiting!!! The book is very graphic and blood-thirsty and makes you realise the horrors of falling ill in 18th Century Britain.Get this book. Read it then read it again. Keep it on your bookshelf and keep reading it time and time again. Next time you're successfully cured by your doctor, thank John Hunter.

Review by
5

A well-written and fascinating biography of John Hunter, who was Europe’s (and probably the world’s) premier anatomist and surgeon during the 1700s. Hunter is responsible for pushing surgery away from blind following of traditions passed down from master to apprentice towards becoming a scientific enterprise, in which experimentation, analysis, and prediction based on knowledge are more important than the words of an ancient scholar.

Review by
4

Moore's book is a biography of the first "modern" surgeon John Hunter, who revolutionized the science of medicine in the mid-18th century. She does an excellent of tying in the social atmosphere of the day concerning medical techniques, borrowing viewpoints from Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson (and Boswell, of course), and Benjamin Franklin. Her only downfall, however, is that some of the chapters repeat ideas/theses from earlier chapters. Her study of Hunter as doctor/surgeon/scientist/natural historian/biologist is remarkable in its breadth and scholarship regardless of its repetitiousness. A great read.

Review by
4.5

The Eighteenth Century ushered in what would become known as the "Enlightenment". A new philosophy of progress was proclaimed by intellectuals throughout Europe. They proclaimed that Reason would create a better future; science and technology, as Francis Bacon had taught, would enhance man's control over nature, and cultural progress, prosperity and the conquest of disease would follow. While Condorcet's vision is still not complete, Wendy Moore's biography of Dr. John Hunter, The Knife Man, captures one man's contribution to it.Moore depicts Hunter's life and catches the reader's attention through the use of intriguing episodes in his life. Told in a chronological style, the life of Hunter had many exciting episodes to recount as he was what one might call a "larger than life" character. Always unafraid to upset friend and foe alike, he never rested in his search for the truth about human and other animals' physiology. He become a premiere surgeon despite his distaste for "book learning" through his own observations and what we call the scientific method of experimentation and verification. He impressed me as an enlightenment version of Aristotle in his method of theorizing based on observation of the real world. He was among the first to do autopsies on dead people, he developed methods for revival of life through electric shock (Benjamin Franklin was among his friends), and he used artificial insemination to help a woman conceive. He would work for free with poor people while buying their dead bodies from the graveyard later. He was obsessed with immortality and whether it was possible to obtain it.A fellow Scot whose heritage I share, John Hunter created modern medicine and surgery as we know it, as well as being the inspiration for the next generation of artists (Joshua Reynolds), composers (Haydn), writers (Tobias Smollett, Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron among others) and of course doctors (Lister and Jenner in particular) plus Hunter would be credited with being the inspiration for Dr Doolittle and his house would inspire Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" (another of those ubiquitous Scots). More importantly, from my perspective and interest in philosophy and economics, was his friendship with David Hume and Adam Smith, the latter whose health he aided in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to turn around his declining health in the 1780s. Hunter would later found the Royal College of Surgeons as well as the Royal Veterinary College. His museum of body parts and skeletons still exists to this very day. He would become Surgeon-Extraordinary to King George III and Surgeon-General of the British Army.As in our day and earlier times the independent-minded forward thinker is not rewarded for his views by the establishment. Just as the men who discovered the earth was not the center of the universe were chastised by the church, so Hunter was criticized by the medical establishment of his day. With his colleagues still practising medicine and surgery from the Dark Ages, Hunter would be cutting up dead bodies and examining the anatomy of bodies to discover how they worked. He would do the same with animals from dogs to elephants to zebras. He would then give lectures to an army of adoring medical students while his scheming brother would steal the body parts for his own private collection. I was impressed with the large numbers of young physicians who attended Hunter's lectures and demonstrations, for they would form the medicine of the future. Wendy Moore nicely relates the life of this giant of the enlightenment who changed the course of medicine for the better.

Review by
5

This has been given to me by one of my buisness partners and is absolutel brilliant> Highly recommended for those who have an interest in the history of medicine or Georgian London. Hunter himself, a fascinating subject for any biography is well drawn pout and his curiosity is infectious. That said, his faults and unethical procedures are not shirked and this makes for a very interesting character study and fascinating insight in a very neglected area of the history of medicine. Recommended absolutely

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