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The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery [Kindle Edition]

Wendy Moore
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $9.99
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his gothic horror story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he based the house of the genial doctor-turned-fiend on the home of John Hunter. The choice was understandable, for Hunter was both widely acclaimed and greatly feared.
From humble origins, John Hunter rose to become the most famous anatomist and surgeon of the eighteenth century. In an age when operations were crude, extremely painful, and often fatal, he rejected medieval traditions to forge a revolution in surgery founded on pioneering scientific experiments. Using the knowledge he gained from countless human dissections, Hunter worked to improve medical care for both the poorest and the best-known figures of the era—including Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron.
An insatiable student of all life-forms, Hunter was also an expert naturalist. He kept exotic creatures in his country menagerie and dissected the first animals brought back by Captain Cook from Australia. Ultimately his research led him to expound highly controversial views on the age of the earth, as well as equally heretical beliefs on the origins of life more than sixty years before Darwin published his famous theory.
Although a central figure of the Enlightenment, Hunter’s tireless quest for human corpses immersed him deep in the sinister world of body snatching. He paid exorbitant sums for stolen cadavers and even plotted successfully to steal the body of Charles Byrne, famous in his day as the “Irish giant.”
In The Knife Man, Wendy Moore unveils John Hunter’s murky and macabre world—a world characterized by public hangings, secret expeditions to dank churchyards, and gruesome human dissections in pungent attic rooms. This is a fascinating portrait of a remarkable pioneer and his determined struggle to haul surgery out of the realms of meaningless superstitious ritual and into the dawn of modern medicine.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Brilliant anatomist, foul-mouthed and well met, avid empiricist and grave robber, John Hunter cut an astonishing figure in Georgian England. Born in Scotland in 1728, he followed his brother, a renowned physician, to London and into the intellectually grasping, fiercely competitive world of professional medicine. With ample servings of 18th-century filth and gore, Moore offers a vivid look at this remarkable period in science history, when many of the most impressive advances were made by relentless iconoclasts like Hunter. In an age when ancient notions of bodily humors still smothered medical thinking, Hunter challenged orthodoxy whenever facts were absent—which was usually the case. A prodigious experimenter—to the point of obsession—he dissected thousands of corpses and countless animals (many of them living) in his effort to define the nature of the human body. Yet he was also an early adherent of medical minimalism, shunning bloodletting by default and advocating physical therapy over invasive surgeries. This is a deftly written and informative tale that will please readers of science history, period buffs and everyone in between. (Oct. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Sometimes watershed achievements in science and medicine, such the Salk polio vaccine, are lastingly linked to a name, and sometimes not. Moore depicts John Hunter as a man to whom modern surgeons are hugely indebted, yet few outside of medicine have heard of him. The eighteenth-century English surgeon made his mark--though some of his contemporaries likely would have preferred the word scar--by departing radically from accepted surgical procedures of the day. In an era when practitioners relied upon the centuries-old knowledge of the second-century Greek physician Galen, Hunter was a revolutionary who "believed all surgery should be governed by scientific principles, which were based on reasoning, observation, and experimentation." Without setting tradition aside and dissecting and experimenting on human cadavers and live animals, which garnered Hunter much contempt from colleagues and neighbors alike, he would never have accomplished his goals. Moore's telling of his story is detailed and often grisly but engrossing throughout. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 995 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0012RMV9S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,875 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Anatomist and Surgeon in a Lively Biography September 21, 2005
It is hard to understand that the genius John Hunter, one of the star figures of the Enlightenment, should not be one of those scientists whom everyone has heard of. If the name does not ring a bell, it is strongly recommended that you pick up _The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery_ (Broadway Books) by Wendy Moore. Not just a genius in surgical technique and innovator of scientific experiment to guide surgical choices, he was a brilliant anatomist of other species as well, he was an attentive teacher, and he set up a museum that demonstrated the now accepted views of the origins of life and the age of the Earth. He was constantly attentive to animal behavior and physiology and his curiosity never stopped. A mainstay to his friends, he was also willful and irascible, and made enemies easily, one of the reasons he got limited credit during his lifetime for his new ways of thinking. Moore's book is an exhilarating view of a foolhardy, energetic, innovative, and brilliant man.

John Hunter was born in 1728 in Scotland. He left school at thirteen, and left Oxford after just two months. He instead followed his older brother William to London to help in William's anatomy school in Covent Garden. He would dissect thousands of bodies, and was well acquainted with the "resurrection men", the grave robbers who provided fresh, or maybe not so fresh, specimens. Hunter's reliance on observation and experiment put him squarely against the medical establishment, which had insisted on relying on Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen, "preferring to bleed, blister, and purge their patients to early graves.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medicine comes of age with Hunter October 8, 2005
The Knife Man is an absolutely compelling read and is a superb blend of history, science, and philosophy. John Hunter was kind of like the Richard Feinman of the medical establishment of the 18th century. He pursued his own research, never buckled to peer pressure, and had absolute faith in his beliefs. At the same time, he was methodical, open-minded, and humble enough to realize that man bowed to Nature, not vice versa as many of his contemporaries would have wished.

We have John Hunter to thank for bringing medicine, quite literally, out of the dark ages and into the scientific age. Prior to Hunter's arrival, doctors believed that most ill derived from imbalances in "humors." By bloodletting, drinking your own urine, etc, etc, one could have a hope of regaining health. Frankly, as Hunter quickly learned, this was complete and utter hogwash and he systematically set out to prove that many of that age's theories were plainly wrong.

Hunter succeeded in not only altering the understanding of medicine and anatomy in his time but also in inculcating a true scientific approach in his teaching role that reaches to today. He literally taught over a thousand doctors, including those who would go on to found the University of Pennsylvania's hospital in the capital of the American colony in Philadelphia. These doctors spread around the world in a wave and ultimately brought down the ridiculous knowledge base founded by Galen thousands of years before and replaced it with a rigorous, scientific one.

You don't need to be a doctor to understand this book but it helps to have a little medical knowledge, anyone who has taken biology at high school level will be fine.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating account of the life of a surgical giant January 28, 2006
As a retired surgeon I found this biography of anatomist-surgeon John Hunter fascinating. It has a readable style that both informs and entertains as we are led through the dark medical universe of 18th century London, where the average life expectancy was 35 years due to the abysmal public health conditions of the day and a medical system based on blood-letting and other mythologies, and learn of the achievements of this towering figure in the advance of medicine and surgery who is not well known or recognized beyond establishment circles today.

In our modern world of miraculous medical achievements we too often take for granted the scientific approach initially promulgated by John Hunter. Living in London in the mid-1700s this Scottish-born, brilliant yet eccentric surgeon, who was both an ardent naturalist and an innovator of medical practice, was a voice in the wilderness of his day. His common sense approach has been responsible for our emergence from a world of superstition and quackery into today's era of rational science that has increased longevity and relief from so many debilitating maladies.

A man of intense curiosity and self-confidence, Hunter bucked the medical establishment in demanding that objective criteria be the basis of determining the efficacy of medical intervention. Over several decades of intense study and research on human and animal bodies, made possible by the controversial practice of obtaining "material" for his dissection laboratory of fresh corpses from the grave yards of London, he catalogued the gross and minute anatomic principles of the living body and opened the door to a logical understanding of the normal and the pathological features of health and disease.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The knife man.....
This book was a wonderful surprise. I like historical biographies. Especially those pertaining to individuals who were pioneers of one subject of science or another. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!
This extraordinary book is a gift to anyone interest in an engaging story, a reading difficult to stop. Read more
Published 3 months ago by F. G. Nobrega
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very well written and engaging--great read for lay and medical folks alike!
Published 9 months ago by Zack's Aunt
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
Fascinating read about a brilliant surgeon way before his time. Created techniques that were forerunners for today. Quite the Doctor.
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
This book is about John Hunter. He was relentless in his quest to learn about the human body and the bodies of animals. It is amazing what this man accomplished. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Deborah
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and informative
This is a great story! The only problem with the kindle edition is that you can't reference the footnotes until the end of the story. Read more
Published 20 months ago by nicol
5.0 out of 5 stars compelling
Excellent treatise on a man that had great influence on scientific thought, but is not well known. Any one who is involved in medicine should read this book. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Doug Kunz
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I was directed to this book by a fictional period novel of the same time and place. It is intresting that things we take for granted and for the norm were considered odd, depraved... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Ardent Amazon Shopper
5.0 out of 5 stars A great Read!
This is a must read for surgeons and anyone interested in the history of medicine. It is well researched and written in sufficient detail to reveal the great breadth of... Read more
Published on May 15, 2013 by Keith F. Harcourt
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Always enjoy a true book about the history of medicine so no complaints. I haven't finished it yet but will soon.
Published on January 10, 2013 by Jayne Russell
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