The Butchering Art

Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

The story of a visionary British surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world – the safest time to be alive in human history.

Victorian operating theaters were known as “gateways of death,” Lindsey Fitzharris reminds us since half of those who underwent surgery didn’t survive the experience. This was an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation when surgeons often lacked university degrees and were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers. While the discovery of anesthesia somewhat lessened the misery for patients, ironically it led to more deaths, as surgeons took greater risks. In squalid, overcrowded hospitals, doctors remained baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high.

At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection – and could be treated with antiseptics – he changed the history of medicine forever.

The Butchering Art Book - Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris

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Eerie and illuminating, The Butchering Art celebrates the triumph of a visionary surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world.

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