BLOOD AND GUTS by Richard Hollingham


A History of Surgery
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An anecdote-laden history of surgery based on a five-part BBC TV series also titled Blood and Guts.

Popular-science writer Hollingham (How to Clone the Perfect Blonde: Making Fantasies Come True with Cutting-edge Science, 2003) covers the same ground as the series, but in a different sequence. He opens with a gory leg amputation performed without anesthesia in just 30 seconds by Robert Liston in 1842. He then gives a nod to the anatomy-revealing work of Galen and Vesalius before turning his attention back to the 19th century and the discovery of ether and chloroform, Ignaz Semmelweis’s stress on cleanliness and Joseph Lister’s techniques for sterilization. The chapter on the heart describes early surgery on beating hearts, the first heart-lung machines and the race to perform the first heart transplant, won by Christiaan Barnard in 1967. Hollingham hits his stride with transplantation, describing the disastrous results of inserting teeth pulled from syphilitic prostitutes into the gums of 18th-century gentry, a curious modern-day on-again, off-again hand transplant and Alexis Carrel’s bizarre transplantation experiments with animals. Crude attempts to replace missing noses in 16th-century Italy launch the author’s discussion of reconstructive surgery, a field whose modern era began with the innovative work of British surgeons at Queens Hospital in World War I and advanced rapidly in World War II. Finally, the author turns to the brain, where the spotlight is shared by the brilliant surgeon Harvey Cushing and the misguided Walter Freeman, who was not a surgeon but who boldly performed thousands of lobotomies on mental patients.

Hollingham makes no attempt to provide a complete history of surgery, but he offers a quick, entertaining read filled with operating-room dramas that end in disaster or triumph and a wide variety of heroes and villains. One warning: This is not for the squeamish.

Pub Date: Dec. 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-57546-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2009


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