The Butchering Art Book Cover The Butchering Art
Lindsey Fitzharris
Medical History
October 17, 2017

"Warning: She spares no detail!" —Erik Larson, bestselling author of Dead Wake
A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly
"Fascinating and shocking." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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 on the eve of profound transformation. 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 medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than their 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 deadly riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically recounts Lister’s discoveries in gripping detail, culminating in his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection—and could be countered by antiseptics. Focusing on the tumultuous period from 1850 to 1875, she introduces us to Lister and his contemporaries—some of them brilliant, some outright criminal—and takes us through the grimy medical schools and dreary hospitals where they learned their art, the deadhouses where they studied anatomy, and the graveyards they occasionally 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.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know The Butchering Art is one of those books I followed religiously, waiting for it to come out. I mean, what more does someone want in a nonfiction medical history book? It takes place during a time when surgery was high and there was no such thing as anesthesia or sterilization.

Now before I continue, I just want to say I have slight fascinations with the 19th century, science, and forensic pathology. So this book was almost a holy grail to me and man, it DID NOT disappoint. I honestly, no matter how excited I was for it, did not expect it to be so engaging that I read the damn thing in less than 24hrs. This wasn’t the run-of-the-mill medical history snooze-fest book (trust me on this one, lol). Fitzharris takes us on a journey with Lister and his iron strong will to prove germs existed. It’s like I was there with him the whole time. The Butchering Art detailed on surgeries and procedures performed in the hospital and at home, exploring deep into the practices of other surgeons who killed more people than they saved due to postoperative infections. Definitely one of my top favorite nonfiction reads ever which sits on my shelf of books that I read over and over. Lindsey is also an awesome person. I’ve interacted with her numerous times on her Instagram account and she always, ALWAYS, responds. If you don’t follow her, do it. You’ll learn something, I swear. She also has a cool YouTube account called Under the Knife.

Lindsey went on a short book tour here in the US at all my bucket list places like the Mutter Museum. Seriously, I was thinking of using Southwest points to fly to Philly so I could meet her. Unfortunately, the dates of her tour conflicted with my schedule. Fortunately, I have an awesome friend in Philly who flew in on his space ship and snabbed me a signed copy. =D


Fitzharris did a good job with characterization. Satisfying secondary characters as well.

I’m not squeamish. At all. So it takes a lot to make me cringe. This book didn’t do that but I wasn’t reading it for the gore. Still a lot of other reviews say it was gory. I suppose it is, but it didn’t make me take notice.

Pacing was fantastic. There was a page or two that I had to read over. Not sure if it was a pacing issue or just me getting distracted.

This book was well researched for medical history and the time period. I felt like I was there. Sometimes I wanted to be there, other times I’m glad I live in the 21st century. lol. Even though I knew quite a bit about Joesph Lister, I learned a lot, which is the point of reading medical history books, right?

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