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

Lindsey Fitzharris. Scientific American, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-11729-0
British science writer Fitzharris slices into medical history with this excellent biography of Joseph Lister, the 19th-century “hero of surgery.” Lister championed the destruction of microorganisms in surgical wounds, thus preventing deadly postoperative infections. This was a radical approach inspired by French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur’s discovery of bacteria. Lister, whose Quaker father introduced him to the wonders of the microscope, became an evangelist for the germ theory of disease and the sterilization of both surgical instruments and doctors’ hands. The medical community resisted Lister’s procedures, but his successful treatment of Queen Victoria boosted his reputation and techniques—winning converts first in Scotland, then America, and finally London. “Lister’s methods transformed surgery from a butchering art to a modern science, one where newly tried and tested methodologies trumped hackneyed practices,” Fitzharris writes. She infuses her thoughtful and finely crafted examination of this revolution with the same sense of wonder and compassion Lister himself brought to his patients, colleagues, and students. “As he neared the end of his life, Lister expressed the desire that if his story was ever told, it would be done through his scientific achievements alone,” Fitzharris notes, respecting his wish and fulfilling it in the context of a remarkable life and time. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2017
Release date: 10/17/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-374-53796-8
MP3 CD - 978-1-5436-9900-5
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