cover image Under the Knife: The History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations

Under the Knife: The History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations

Arnold Van de Laar, trans. from the Dutch by Andy Brown. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-20010-5

Amsterdam surgeon Van de Laar devotes his first book to vivid descriptions of notable surgeries, from ancient times to the present. Trial, error, and gore fill these lively accounts of professionals (and a few amateurs) wielding the scalpel to remedy bodily affliction. Van de Laar captures the drama in the Dallas operating room where Lee Harvey Oswald was admitted with acute injuries to the aorta and interior vena cava. He depicts Italian surgeons using their hands to scoop blood clots out of John Paul II’s abdomen after the 1981 attempt on the Pope’s life, and recounts how a Dutch blacksmith successfully cut into his own body in 1651 to remove a kidney stone. Van de Laar also includes numerous asides on medical topics such as the causes of fever and the art of tying surgical knots. He spotlights famous practitioners, including Rudolf Nissen, who used cellophane—“essentially a sandwich bag”—to wrap a grapefruit-size aneurysm in Albert Einstein, and Malcolm Perry, who was in the operating room for both the Kennedy and Oswald shootings. Fast-paced and lucid, this is medical history not for those with weak stomachs. (Oct.)