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

4.7 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0767916523
ISBN-10: 0767916522
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  • Length: 352 pages
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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: 1323 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Publication Date: December 18, 2007
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0012RMV9S
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,805 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
We take so much of our medical care for granted these days, and forget that we have only actually had such choices for lives without pain or crippling illnesses within the last 150 years. In other medical history books, most of them deal with the changes in public health, the use of microscopy to find bacteria and later viruses, the slow and serendipitous findings of antibiotics. This was the first book I've come across that dealt with surgery. It caught my eye because I had read about the use of 'body snatchers', men who either dug up freshly buried bodies or would never bury them in the first place, and sell them to physicians and others who were trying to understand more about the human body. This particular 'horror' was one of the first major bioethical problems, as universities needed to train physicians, but experimenting on human beings was forbidden (and rightfully so), but at the same time, they needed to have someway of understanding how the human body works. Many men before Hunter used animals in experimentation, and even that was frowned upon, but to those like Hunter and Leonardo da Vinci, there was no way to elucidate how to help people when their bodies were so different from those of other animals. Until the late 1700's physicians were still relying on archaic medical practices that had no basis in reality, and much of what was done to patients just made things worse (such as the use of bleeding to purge the body of humours).

Hunter obviously was an immensely intelligent man who used 'resurrection men' to get him the bodies he needed not only to teach himself the best way to operate on things like aneurysms, but also to teach anatomy to his students.
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Format: Hardcover
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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