MASTER SURGEON: John Hunter by Iris Noble


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Minus the padding at the outset and again, spasmodically, elsewhere, this is an estimable recreation of the man behind one of the 18th-century's most awesome and progressive scientific minds. Jock Hunter's evolution from raw Scotsman/daft ugly-duckling/black-sheep to maverick researcher and practitioner was not an abrupt or complete transformation -- to the consternation of his social-climbing brother William, whose contributions to obstetrics and surgery loom nearly as large here as John's to anatomy, natural history, VD, aneurysm treatment, dentistry, et alia. The two Hunters' eventual estrangement was a source of great sorrow to both, but John found compensation in his wife and his work, in his museum collection (for which Captain Cook and Joseph Banks provided specimens), and in the theories that preoccupied him -- once enough to enable Sir Joshua Reynolds to paint him immobile. Even amid the relentless attacks he suffered after injecting himself with gonorrhea (and with syphilis concomitantly though unknowingly), Hunter filled all but four hours of each day with hospital rounds, dissections, teaching, more experimenting, writing, fighting enemies. Indomitable intellectually us well as physically, John Hunter is a fertile subject to whom Mrs. Noble does full interpretive justice: she projects his genius sympathetically but persuasively and with sufficient documentation to support the less substantive fictional forays.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1971
Publisher: Messner