On 1 November 1666, a young farmer named Abraham Morten took one final, agonizing breath. He was the last of 260 people to die of bubonic plague in the remote village of Eyam in Derbyshire. His fate had been sealed four months earlier when villagers decided to shut themselves off from the rest of the […]
The word “hysteria” conjures up an array of images, none of which probably include a nomadic uterus wandering aimlessly around the female body. Yet that is precisely what medical practitioners in the past believed was the cause behind this mysterious disorder. The very word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word hystera, meaning “womb,” and arises […]
The following blog post relates to my forthcoming book THE BUTCHERING ART, which you can pre-order here. Today, we think of the hospital as an exemplar of sanitation. However, during the first half of the nineteenth century, hospitals were anything but hygienic. They were breeding grounds for infection and provided only the most primitive facilities for the sick and […]
I’m thrilled to reveal the cover for the US edition of my forthcoming book, THE BUTCHERING ART, which will be published by FSG on October 17th. The book delves into the grisly world of Victorian surgery and transports the reader to a period when a broken leg could result in amputation, when giving birth in a […]
Several years ago, the news reported a story that could have come straight from the script of a horror movie. In October 2009, Colleen S. Burns was admitted to St Joseph’s Hospital Center in New York for a drug overdose. A short time later, a team of doctors pronounced the 39-year-old woman dead. Her family was notified and Burns’s body was prepped for organ donation.
The only problem was: Burns wasn’t actually dead.
My article on the history of our ever-changing attitudes towards death is out in The Guardian today, featuring fascinating photos by Dr. Paul Koudounaris of the Ma’nene Festival of Corpses in Indonesia. Big thanks to Caitlin Doughty and Dr. John Troyer for sharing their thoughts on the future of death with me for this article. […]
There was panic on the streets of London in 1760, and the city’s newspapers weren’t helping the situation. Hundreds of column inches, for week upon week, were full of terrifying reports about an outbreak of attacks by rabid dogs. Armchair experts even wrote letters to newspaper editors offering advice and hypotheses on the causes […]
On 30 April 1555, the people of London took to the streets in celebration as bells ringing out around the city announced that Mary I, Queen of England, had been safely delivered of a healthy son. A preacher proclaimed to gatherers that no one had ever seen such a beautiful prince. News spread quickly to […]
On 29 July 1831, John Amy Bird Bell was found guilty of murdering a young boy for the sake of a few coins. At his trial, Bell expressed no emotion when he was sentenced to death. He did, however, break down when he was informed that his body would be given over to the surgeons […]
Inspired by real people and events, the new PBS mini-series Mercy Street goes beyond the front lines of the Civil War and into the chaotic world of the Mansion House Hospital in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. For those who are fans of the show, or merely interested in this period of history, check out my guest […]