cover image The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I

The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I

Lindsey Fitzharris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-28230-

Medical historian Fitzharris (The Butchering Art) paints a fascinating portrait of pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies and the soldiers whose faces he rebuilt during WWI. Drawing on firsthand accounts of trench warfare, Fitzharris shows how “Europe’s military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities,” with facial wounds caused by shrapnel, burns, and infections far more common than in earlier conflicts. Gillies, a Cambridge-educated New Zealander, first supervised a unit dedicated to face and jaw wounds at the Cambridge Military Hospital, where he developed new techniques for skin grafts and rebuilding noses and eyelids, then established Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, England—the first hospital devoted to facial reconstruction. Fitzharris spotlights some of Gillies’s collaborators, including French American dentist Auguste Charles Valadier, who early in the war converted his Rolls Royce into a mobile operating room, and artist Henry Tonks, a trained doctor who created pictorial records of patients before, during, and after their operations. She also details the hard-won physical and psychological recoveries of patients like Pvt. Percy Clare, who was mistakenly sent to the wrong hospital before undergoing several operations at Queen’s Hospital. Meticulously researched and compulsively readable, this exceptional history showcases how compassion and innovation can help mitigate the terrible wounds of war. (June)