Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery, by Wendy Moore, follows the story of John Hunter (13 February 1728 – 16 October 1793) who is widely credited as laying the groundwork of the modern science of surgery.

Moore’s book is detailed, entertaining, and informative.  John Hunter was both inwardly driven, a self-made man who became Europe’s greatest surgeon through pluck, intelligence, and hard work and also at a crux in the history of science: empirical methods were beginning to supersede the ancient reliance on Galen and his theory of the humors.  Hunter dissected corpses, performed autopsies, used precise methods and practices and relied experience, not medical books; he applied scientific norms to surgery with great success.

In a sense this book is perhaps a bit too long.  Moore delves deeply into the times, and in the process, perhaps adds too much.  That said, this book is intriguing.  In our world, were we are often confronted by over determined fields hamstrung by methodology and held in the vice grip of bureaucracies – we cannot help but be nostalgic of Hunter's time and life, when men (and all were men) could use their talents, skills, and drive to get somewhere in the world - and to make a difference.  

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