Monday, November 27, 2017

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

After reading this book, I shall forever look closely at novels set in the 19th century to see how they treat the subject of hospitals and medicine. If it's set in the early 19th century and there is anything approaching hygiene, then it's probably not very accurate. If it's in the 1860s to 1870s, then I'd expect to see a debate about how diseases are spread and how surgeries are carried out.

The Butchering Art is the story of how medicine changed for the better, thanks to the efforts of Joseph Lister. At a time where the field of medicine had the wrong ideas of how diseases spread and the risk of surgery could be higher than the risk of not being operated on (there is one surgery which had a 300% fatality rate - patient, assistant, and bystander), Joseph Lister's discoveries and his creation of an antiseptic system/procedure made things much safer for everyone.

While Joseph Lister is the principal focus of the book, the author also includes enough explanation of the field of medicine at the time and the people who influenced him, which made me appreciate how ideas are not born in a vacuum. It also helped me to see how timely and important these discoveries were, and contextualised them.

This memoir is very well-written, flowing through time and introducing many different people without being confusing. It's also very easy to read (aka not overwhelming the way some non-fiction books are). Even though I had less than a cursory knowledge of this period of time, I found myself being able to follow the events of what was going on and ended up reading this in one go.

If you're interested in the history of medicine, you'll want to pick up this book. The discovery of germs and how to prevent infections marked a turning point in turning hospitals from being houses of death to places of healing.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.


  1. This sounds fascinating. Although I do not read a lot of nonfiction, it's books like this I enjoy the most. Thank you for bringing this one to my attention!

    1. Hope you manage to get the opportunity to read it!


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