• The Butchering Art

  • Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
  • By: Lindsey Fitzharris
  • Narrated by: Ralph Lister
  • Length: 7 hrs and 54 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (3,334 ratings)

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The Butchering Art

By: Lindsey Fitzharris
Narrated by: Ralph Lister
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Editorial reviews

Editors Select, October 2017

I fear that I might be gaining a reputation around here as the editor most likely to geek out over weird medical history books. But if all the books I listen to are as fascinating as this one, I think I might be okay with that. Sparing no gory detail, Lindsey Fitzharris chronicles the history of surgery in the 19th century - which, at the time, was viewed as a last resort, as it often resulted in infection and even death. That is, until a surgeon named Joseph Lister came along with a discovery that paved the way for the modern, safe surgery we have today. If you're looking for a great nonfiction book to send chills down your spine this October, give this one a try. Ralph Lister sets the perfect dramatic tone for this story - and (fun fact) happens to count Joseph Lister among his ancestors! —Sam, Audible Editor

Publisher's summary

The gripping story of how Joseph Lister's antiseptic method changed medicine forever

In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of 19th-century surgery on the eve of profound transformation. She conjures up early operating theaters - no place for the squeamish - and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than their patients' afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn't have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the deadly riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically recounts Lister's discoveries in gripping detail, culminating in his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection - and could be countered by antiseptics. Focusing on the tumultuous period from 1850 to 1875, she introduces us to Lister and his contemporaries - some of them brilliant, some outright criminal - and takes us through the grimy medical schools and dreary hospitals where they learned their art, the deadhouses where they studied anatomy, and the graveyards they occasionally ransacked for cadavers.

Eerie and illuminating, The Butchering Art celebrates the triumph of a visionary surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world.

©2017 Lindsey Fitzharris (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"Warning: She spares no detail!" (Erik Larson, best-selling author of Dead Wake)
"Fascinating and shocking." ( Kirkus Reviews)
A top-10 science book of fall 2017 ( Publishers Weekly)