Our Enduring Preoccupation with Premature Burial 

  Hours before he died, George Washington told his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” This kind of request was not uncommon. In an era when putrefaction was the only sure sign of death, many people […]

Everyday Heroes: A Story of Self-Sacrifice & Bubonic Plague

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 […]

Dead Men’s Teeth – Episode 15 – Under The Knife

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFMBUDRUtRQ&w=560&h=315] In Episode 15 of Under The Knife, I explore the horrible reality behind dental practices from the past, including how dentures used to be made from the teeth of executed criminals, exhumed bodies, and sometimes even slaves. Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here) and […]

Quacks & Hacks: Walter Freeman and the Lobotomobile

On 12 November 1935, a Portuguese neurologist named Antonio Egas Moniz [below right] became the first individual to perform what would later be known as a lobotomy. Moniz’s work built upon that of the 19th-century Swiss psychiatrist, Gottlieb Burkhardt, who performed a series of operations in 1888 in which he removed sections of the cerebral […]

Painful Operations: Removing Bladder Stones before Anesthesia

If you visit the Gordon Museum at Guy’s Hospital in London, you’ll see a small bladder stone—no bigger than 3 centimetres across. Besides the fact that it has been sliced open to reveal concentric circles within, it is entirely unremarkable in appearance. Yet, this tiny stone was the source of enormous pain for 53-year-old Stephen […]

The Butchering Art – UK Cover Reveal!

I’m thrilled to reveal the UK cover for my upcoming book THE BUTCHERING ART, which will be published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin, on October 17th. The book tells the story of the surgeon Joseph Lister and his quest to transform the brutal world of Victorian surgery through antisepsis. For those of you […]

The Wandering Womb: Female Hysteria through the Ages

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 […]

Houses of Death: Walking the Wards of a Victorian Hospital

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 […]

Pre-Order My Book! The Butchering Art

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 […]