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The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At 150 years old, Gray's Anatomy still sets the standard in medical textbooks, yet little has been written about its author, Henry Gray. Even less celebrated is Henry Carter, the illustrator who brought Gray's groundbreaking anatomy text to life. Hayes (Sleep Demons: An Insomniac's Memoir) explores the lives of these two men, balancing biographical chapters with his own experience in the anatomy classroom, dissecting cadavers and marveling at each new discovery with prose both lucid and arrestingly beautiful: Like a pomegranate, whose leathery rind belies its jewel box interior, the kidney is spectacular inside. From Carter's diary entries, Hayes recreates an era when medical advances were rapidly changing the way people lived as well as challenging religious dogma, and people turned to science in hopes of reconciling the two. Hayes finds emotional resonance in Carter's longing for a job that would matter, as well as in his internal conflicts as a Protestant Dissenter and his fear of professing his despised beliefs in public. As Hayes relates his own growing wonder and respect for anatomy, one feels the echo of Carter and Gray's devotion as they worked to create what one historian called an affordable, accurate teaching aid. Hayes pays eloquent tribute to two masterpieces: the human body and the book detailing it. (Dec. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Hayes’s history of the illustrated medical text "Gray’s Anatomy" coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of its first publication. Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray, the brilliant scholar and surgeon who wrote the text, another anatomist was crucial to the book’s popularity: Henry Vandyke Carter, who provided its painstaking drawings. Hayes moves nimbly between the dour streets of Victorian London, where Gray and Carter trained at St. George’s Hospital, and the sunnier classrooms of a West Coast university filled with athletic physical therapists in training, where he enrolls in anatomy classes and discovers that "when done well, dissection is very pleasing aesthetically."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345456890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345456892
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"One of those rare authors who can tackle just about any subject in book form, and make you glad he did." -- San Francisco Chronicle.

Bill Hayes is the author of three books--and is at work on a fourth--each of which deals with facets of the human body; this is the thread that runs through all of his writing. He is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, and his work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, Salon, and The Threepenny Review, among other publications. He lives in New York.

In his first book, "Sleep Demons: An Insomniac's Memoir" (2001), Hayes explored sleep and sleeplessness from the perspective of a lifelong insomniac. Publisher's Weekly called Sleep Demons, "An intelligent, beautifully written book that variously reads like a journey of scientific discovery, a personal memoir, and a literary episode of 'Ripley's Believe It or Not.'"

In "Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood" (2004), he wove together memoir and medical history in an examination of the five quarts of vital fluid that run through each of us. The Boston Globe called Five Quarts "playful and powerful...profoundly moving. Hayes writes with so much panache that reading this book is thrilling."

"The Anatomist," his most recent book (2008), is a narrative nonfiction account of the story behind the 19th-century classic revered by doctors and artists alike, Gray's Anatomy. "Hayes searches for the elusive man behind the great reference work and offers his own scalpel's-eye tour of the human body," noted The New York Times.

Hayes is now at work on a book in which he is exploring a largely overlooked chapter in the history of medicine: the development of exercise--a form of physical activity distinct from sport, play, or athletics. Titled "Sweat: A History of Exercise," the book will be published by Bloomsbury USA/UK.

In "Sweat," Hayes traces the origins of exercise in Western and Eastern traditions, and chronicles how exercise has evolved over time, both influenced by and exerting influence on changes in the larger culture. Whereas in "The Anatomist," he dealt with the literal dissection of the human body, in "Sweat" he is dissecting the dynamics of human movement. Plato, Galen, and the "Einstein of human perspiration," Japanese scientist Yas Kuno, among many others, appear in the book, but chief among the historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era physician and author who aimed to singlehandedly revive the ancient "art of exercising" through his book De arte Gymnastica (1569).

Hayes is also working on a collection of his essays and vignettes on life in New York, many of which have appeared in The New York Times. The book, titled "Insomniac City," will be published by Bloomsbury UK/USA.

New York Times essay, brief excerpt from "Sweat: A History of Exercise":

New York Times essay, brief excerpt from "Insomniac City":

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Francis J. Liuzzi on August 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading The Anatomist by Bill Hayes and as an anatomist who teaches medical school, I found it interesting on a number of levels. Mr. Hayes' descriptions of the anatomy labs of today were pretty accurate. I must agree with another reviewer that the book IS NOT about Henry Gray since not that much is known about Henry Gray. It is more about Henry Carter, the illustrator of Gray's Anatomy, and a great anatomist and physician in his own right. Additionally, the book is, as the other reviewer said, more about Bill Hayes' experiences in the anatomy lab than it is about the history of my profession, one which has a long and fascinating history. I, however, don't fault Mr. Hayes except for a glaring anatomical error on page 220 where he whispers to himself that the three muscles that attach to the pes anserinus are the "Sartorius, gracilis and biceps femoris". The biceps femoris attaches to the head of the fibula on the lateral aspect of the leg. Hopefully, the mnemonic he quotes "Say grace before food" is not being passed along at UCSF as the way to remember the three muscles that attach to the pes anserinus. The third muscle, by the way, is the semitendinosus.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By K. Nicol on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bill Hayes has revealed the story of the Gray's Anatomy creation by two medical practitioners working in England during Queen Victoria's reign, the book was published before the American Civil War and has never gone out print it is used by all levels of medical and health professionals, its longevity a testament to the skill of the Author and Illustrator and the Editorial staff since their deaths.
Bill in trying to understand what Henry Gray did put himself through Anatomical Dissection classes, getting a "feel " for the raw material which Gray and Carter transferred to paper. Bill goes further than my research on Gray by unravelling H. V. Carter's story, from early life in Scarborough to working in India for a lifetime and returing to England with Honours.
The story has been explained using as much original material as extant and eloquently blended with hands on experience, the one point demonstrated about Gray is his tireless industry which almost totally masks the man behind, whereas for Carter's diaries allow a glimpse into the life of a 19th Century Surgeon.

Keith E Nicol,
London January 2008
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on February 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Author Bill Hayes pursues parallel stories:
* The back story on that medical reference icon, "Gray's Anatomy"
* His own anatomical education in exploring dissection of the human body with classes of pharmacy, physical therapy and medical students

He deftly shifts back and forth between the two narratives. He finds that he cannot do justice to Gray's Anatomy without chronicling the life not only of Henry Gray but also the book's illustrator, H.V. Carter. With the patience of a skilled investigator and historical sleuth, Hayes unearths a fascinating narrative of how Grays Anatomy came into being, a tale befitting the 150th anniversary of the book's publication.

Hayes also touches on some interesting points regarding current medical student education, where hands-on dissection may be reduced if not supplants by CD-ROMS and computer-aided tutorials. Do fledgling doctors get the same benefit from that approach or is The Old Way the best?

This is a good book but is somewhat marred by the distraction of Hayes' insistence that all the readers know he is gay. He inserts references to his "partner" Steve, how he got into body-building as a youth to attract the boys, etc. With a clicking sound in his jaw, Hayes suffers apparently not only from TMJ but TMI - Too Much Information! This undercurrent in the book adds little or nothing to the book's narrative thread. OK, we get it. You're gay. Move on! For the medical laity he insists on flaunting his gaiety.

Despite this quibble, "The Anatomist" is a good book that will especially (though not exclusively) appeal to those interested in medicine, health and medical education.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. Bradford on February 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm an entering med student currently making my way through a lot of the standard med student-y literature. I'm reading The Greatest Benefit to Mankind by Roy Porter now, a really solid panoramic look at medical history. I thought that this might be a good complement to the 19th century medical history detailed in Porter's book, as well as a lighter, more "pop" look at that period of medical history.

I am putting this book down about halfway through. Ideological issues aside (it's clear it's not targeted to an audience who is well-versed in medicine), it is honestly one of the most shoddily-constructed pieces of work I've ever seen. If Hayes couldn't put together a better-researched piece on this topic, he shouldn't have written it. It's a strange collection of his own [extremely shallow] reflections sitting in on a modern anatomy lab (formaldehyde smells bad! Who knew?), some bits from the diaries of H.V. Carter, some basic 19th century medical history, and for some totally unintelligible reason, Hayes' reflections on his own sexual discovery (he is, as you know by page 2, gay).

A lay reader who's interested in this period of medical history would do better to do it right with Roy Porter or someone of his likes. For a more "pop" look at a facet of medical history, Emperor of Maladies is really interesting.

All in all, really bizarre book. I would not recommend this to anyone. I get the impression reading this that it was written for a circle-jerk of writers who chit chat about each others' newest books over too-expensive wine at weekly dinner parties in Greenwich Village. Truly, truly an awful piece of work that should not have made it to press. I'm giving it two stars because I like the printing.
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