Science writer Hayes (Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood, 2005, etc.) combines a you-are-there account with interesting biographical details about the men who put the human body on the map.
The map is Gray’s Anatomy, the reference work, originally titled Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical, used by generations of medical students since its first edition was published in 1858. Curious to know more about the brilliant teacher who had the revolutionary idea of writing an anatomy text to assist surgeons, the author learned that there wasn’t much to tell: Henry Gray died young and horribly of smallpox. The meticulous illustrator of Gray’s text, however, had a long, extraordinary life, and Hayes found a trove of diaries and letters to flesh it out. Henry Vandyke Carter, a few years younger than Gray, was a diffident figure, confident in his drawing skills but given to dark moods, self-blame and anxieties about religious faith. Nevertheless, the two Henrys worked well together and produced to glowing acclaim a revolutionary volume. Gray did well financially, but many of Carter’s duties were unpaid. He finally moved to Bombay, where he conducted research, taught anatomy and practiced medicine. His exemplary career was blighted by a scandalous love affair with a woman who bore him a child. Hayes unfolds a Hollywood-like plot, complete with a (sort-of) happy ending. Interspersed with this story, the author relates his personal experiences in gross-anatomy classes, conveying a sense of wonder at the beauty and complexity of the human body and the evolutionary compromises that have shaped it.
No dull required course here—a vivid tale populated with flesh-and-blood characters, from the two Henrys to the cadavers themselves.