Mütter’s healing work inspired former students, from the celebrated Civil War surgeon Jonathan Letterman to the...

DR. MÜTTER'S MARVELS

A TRUE TALE OF INTRIGUE AND INNOVATION AT THE DAWN OF MODERN MEDICINE

Biography of a flamboyant surgeon who helped transform American medicine.

A leading figure at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College in the early 19th century, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1859) won acclaim for his remarkable reconstructive surgeries on deformed patients (with bad burns, cleft palates, mangled faces, etc.) whom most people dismissed as monsters. His hands were “a confident blur of motion” as he worked to alleviate the suffering of patients, writes poet Aptowicz (The Year of No Mistakes, 2013, etc.), whose earlier screenplay on Mütter won many awards. “Where others once saw a monster, Mütter thought, he had revealed the man.” In her deftly crafted narrative, the author provides an absorbing account of the charismatic surgeon’s life and career as well as a vivid look at the medical practices and prejudices of his time. His students adored him, and the disfigured flocked to him. European contemporaries saw him as a “dashing, outspoken, idiosyncratic American visionary.” In an era when many physicians were callous, medical rivals often balked at the kindly Mütter’s successful introduction of such innovations as recovery rooms, clean surgical areas and the use of ether anesthesia in surgery. After treating a man who suffered from elephantiasis, the surgeon took up a collection for him. Aptowicz draws nicely on Mütter’s speeches and lectures to reveal the depth of his empathetic philosophies and humanist approach. In his teaching, he made extensive use of an unusual collection of some 2,000 anatomical specimens—diseased bones, skeletons, deformed organs preserved in jars—as well as paintings, drawings and instruments. These “marvels” formed the core of Philadelphia’s popular Mütter Museum, which opened in 1858.

Mütter’s healing work inspired former students, from the celebrated Civil War surgeon Jonathan Letterman to the pharmaceutical manufacturer E.R. Squibb. His life story will move many readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59240-870-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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