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A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly

The gripping story of how Joseph Lister's antiseptic method changed medicine forever

In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters -- no place for the squeamish -- and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients' afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn't have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically reconstructs Lister's career path to his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection and could be countered by a sterilizing agent applied to wounds. She introduces us to Lister's contemporaries -- some of them brilliant, some outright criminal -- and leads us through the grimy schools and squalid hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied, and the cemeteries they ransacked for cadavers.

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.

About the Author

Lindsey Fitzharris

As a little girl, I used to drag my grandmother from cemetery to cemetery so that I could hunt ghosts. Some might say I was obsessed with death from an early age, but I'd like to think I was simply fascinated with the past, and with the people who lived there. Thus began a lifelong obsession with history. I received a doctorate in the history of science, medicine and technology from the University of Oxford. In 2010, I was granted a postdoctoral research fellowship by the Wellcome Trust. I am the author and creator of the popular website The Chirurgeon's Apprentice, which has received over 2 million hits. I am also the writer and presenter of the YouTube series Under The Knife, which takes a humorous look at our medical past. I've written for The Guardian, The Lancet, New Scientist, Penthouse, The Huffington Post and Medium. I have appeared on PBS, Channel 4, BBC, and National Geographic. My debut book The Butchering Art follows the surgeon Joseph Lister on his quest to transform the brutal and bloody world of Victorian surgery. It will be published worldwide on October 17th.

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