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Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It Paperback – October 8, 2002


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Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It + Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How anaesthetics changed the world
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060933178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060933173
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The fates of the men involved in the first use of anesthesia in surgery in Boston, on October 16, 1846 and its aftermath read like a tragedy by Aeschylus or Racine. Fenster, a columnist for American Heritage and a contributor to the New York Times, ably renders the three main characters, who typify that common 19th-century American combination of brilliance, ambition and mental instability. Charles Jackson, related by marriage to Ralph Waldo Emerson, was more renowned for his geological studies than his medical practice. Horace Wells had been the first to use nitrous oxide in dentistry. William Morton, who designed the delivery device for the ether and administered it, had enjoyed a long career as a con man. After their "unwilling collaboration," they argued about who actually made the discovery and should reap the financial rewards. Jackson, who claimed that Samuel Morse stole the idea for the telegraph from him, was supported by Emerson in his Atlantic Monthly. He spent his final years in a mental institution. Wells was championed by the Connecticut legislature. Later, addicted to chloroform, he committed suicide in jail. Morton failed in his efforts to patent a mixture of ether and oil of orange. After some years unsuccessfully lobbying Congress to reward him, he collapsed in Central Park in 1868 and died en route to a hospital. Fenster jumps between the figures' backstories somewhat confusingly, and her occasionally laughable rhetorical devices would give a high school yearbook editor pause. Nonetheless, this extensive book will attract fans of the history of medicine and 19th-century Americana. Photos and illus. (Aug. 5) Forecast: A 25-city national radio campaign coupled with author appearances in New York City, Boston and Philadelphia will give this book the exposure necessary to sell its 25,000 initial printing.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Julie M. Fenster, columnist for the Forbes magazine Audacity, has written articles for publications, including American Heritage, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of the best-selling In the Words of Great Business Leaders, the comprehensive Everyday Money, and award-winning books on business history.

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Customer Reviews

Reliable anesthesia was the first great advance in modern medicine.
R. Hardy
The way in which the book is written kept my interest, because it was much like a fictional story, yet it was all facts.
Joanne
The book starts off with a sad short story that immediately grabs your attention.
KldoscpEyesLiz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Who invented anesthesia? If you learned a name for this invention, it was probably William Thomas Green Morton. He turns out to be the most colorful and rascally character in the wonderful _Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It_ (HarperCollins) by Julie M. Fenster, but he isn't the only one. The invention of anesthesia was one of the most divisive issues in medicine in the nineteenth century. Fenster has dug up an amazing story of the origin of the first great advance in modern medicine, and told it in a lively and dramatic fashion. Opium, alcohol, ice, Mesmerism, and even bleeding into a faint had been used to avoid the horrors of surgery on a conscious patient, with little success. Reliable anesthesia was the first great advance in modern medicine.
Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, used to be a party and theatrical intoxicant. After an exhibition of its use, Horace Wells, a dentist, realized it cut pain. He began to use it in dental extractions. Morton met Wells in 1842, after a youthful career of spectacularly defrauding creditors in various big cities, and decided to take up dentistry under Wells's tutelage. Morton later met Charles T. Jackson, a chemist, who maintained that he had suggested to Morton the use of ether for dental extractions. Morton was eventually invited to administer ether before a rapt audience at the Massachusetts General Hospital on 16 October 1846, which is known by historians of anesthesia as Ether Day. It went perfectly. Morton tried the shocking precedent of patenting ether, and when that didn't work, he spent his life petitioning Congress for a reward for his invention, an award opposed by Jackson and Wells.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robert Adler on October 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Surgical anesthesia was America's first great scientific gift to the world. Since ancient times, and throughout the history of Europe, surgery, however necessary, was an unimaginable nightmare. Even the simplest procedure understandably stirred intense dread. And almost any sugery could prove fatal because of pain and shock. Of necessity, surgeons had to work at lightning speed, amputating a limb or "cutting for the stone" in minutes.
All this changed in 1846, at Massachusetts General Hospital, when a young man named Gilbert Abbot underwent the first surgery using ether anesthesia. The surgeon was Dr. John C. Warren, whose position and reputation allowed him to take this radical step. The person administering the ether was an ambitious dentist, William Morton, one of the unlikely and ill-fated heroes of the ether story.
As Julie Fenster reveals the events that led to and followed from the inception of ether anesthesia, she deftly reveals the human foibles of the key participants: the high-living, risk-taking Morton, the idealistic Horace Wells, and the brilliant and arrogant Charles Jackson. Anesthesia was a great gift to mankind, but it proved the undoing of its flawed discovers.
It's a great story, well told and well worth reading.
Robert Adler
Author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation (Wiley, 2002).
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Fenster has told a story that concerns almost every person on the planet and yet the average individual knows nothing about. I am talking about anaethesia. It was so interesting that I completed the book in 4.5 hours. Her thoughtful characterizations of the people involved in the discoveries was balanced perfectly with the historical content. This book helped me to see how such an enormous discovery affected the people at the time. It was the best work of medical history I have ever read. Thank you Ms. Fenster for such a thoughtful and insightful book on such a fascinating topic.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "Ether Day", Julie Fenster provides a fast-paced analysis of the medical discovery and extensive background on the major players in the invention of inhalation anesthesia. It is well-written and her facts jive with my previous readings. She also gives some fascinating background on the shady character of William Morton's previous business and professional dealings. That said, I was constantly frustrated by Ms Fenster's omissions. Although I do not expect a popular work in science or technology to provide great detail, it should at least provide an acquaintance with the relevant science and (in this case) with patent law. Fenster's chemistry is very weak. She does briefly describe the preparation of nitrous oxide, but never explains why toxic impurities can be produced or why it initially was difficult to store and to administer consistently. These facts are important for her exposition of why nitrous oxide was supplanted by ether. Again, I was frustrated by Fenster's archaic term, "sulfuric ether", rather than just "ether" or (better) ethyl ether. Although she describes the preparation of nitrous oxide, she never discusses the ways of preparing ether, which would help readers understand why the old term was "sulfuric ether". The book only discusses inhalation anesthetics and does not clearly indicate that there are other categories of general anesthetics. A central theme of the story is how Charles Jackson, William Morton and Horace Wells competed against one another for the honor of priority in inventing inhalation anesthesia.Read more ›
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