The Knife Man

The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery
Narrated by: Steve West
Length: 13 hrs and 28 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (161 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his gothic horror story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he based the house of the genial doctor-turned-fiend on the home of John Hunter. The choice was understandable, for Hunter was both widely acclaimed and greatly feared.

From humble origins, John Hunter rose to become the most famous anatomist and surgeon of the 18th century. In an age when operations were crude, extremely painful, and often fatal, he rejected medieval traditions to forge a revolution in surgery founded on pioneering scientific experiments. Using the knowledge he gained from countless human dissections, Hunter worked to improve medical care for both the poorest and the best-known figures of the era - including Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron.

An insatiable student of all life-forms, Hunter was also an expert naturalist. He kept exotic creatures in his country menagerie and dissected the first animals brought back by Captain Cook from Australia. Ultimately, his research led him to expound highly controversial views on the age of the Earth, as well as equally heretical beliefs on the origins of life more than 60 years before Darwin published his famous theory.

Although a central figure of the Enlightenment, Hunter's tireless quest for human corpses immersed him deep in the sinister world of body snatching. He paid exorbitant sums for stolen cadavers and even plotted successfully to steal the body of Charles Byrne, famous in his day as the "Irish giant".

In The Knife Man, Wendy Moore unveils John Hunter's murky and macabre world - a world characterized by public hangings, secret expeditions to dank churchyards, and gruesome human dissections in pungent attic rooms. This is a fascinating portrait of a remarkable pioneer and his determined struggle to haul surgery out of the realms of meaningless superstitious ritual and into the dawn of modern medicine.

©2007 Wendy Moore (P)2015 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"The surgeon John Hunter (1728 - 93) is not a well-known name outside specialist circles, although that scandalous situation should be corrected by Wendy Moore's marvelous biography." ( The Times Higher)
"Definitely not for the squeamish, Moore's visceral portrait of this complex and brilliant man offers a wonderful insight into sickness, suffering, and surgery in the 18th century." ( The Guardian (UK))
"Moore's feel for pace and narrative is impeccable. Her book contains just the right amount of background scenery to bring Hunter alive without swamping him. She is, at last, the biographer Hunter deserves." ( The Independent)
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Brilliant

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes I would and two for Christmas this year.
John Hunter lead a fascinating life, and the author did a wonderful job to capture the details for an extremely fun read.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Knife Man?

There are so many! Most likely is the likelihood that Dr Hunter may have infected himself with syphilis for the purpose of research.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes!

5 people found this helpful

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Great book

Very well written. The book is very informative, and an exciting read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves physiology.

3 people found this helpful

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Beautiful

Eye opening look into the age of enlightenment and the seminal work and courage of a great man. I highly recommend this book.

3 people found this helpful

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Pairs Well with The Butchering Art

Goes hand in hand with The Butchering Art. technically The Butchering Art is a little juicier so if you only listen to onepuck that one. But both are excellent and you should listen to this book and then The Butchering Art to keep them in chronological order.

2 people found this helpful

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Treat yourself!

Brilliant! Couldn't stop listening. Had me from the start. I've listened twice already! . .

1 person found this helpful

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Great biography!

Moore does a maasterful job of weaving a tale chock full of details into a work that is easy to understand. John Hunter was a man ahead of his time who was undoubtedly the Father of Scientific Surgery.

1 person found this helpful

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Was John Hunter the father of scientific surgery?

Why was scream and bear it common in surgery? Did Hunter attend medical school with Erasmus and Darwin? John Hunter says our first parents had skin the color of coffee?

Year is 1785 and one of the first patients to see Mr. Hunter had a tumor the size of a bowling ball on the side of his head. Fortunately, it was benign. The tumor was so large no other surgeon would operate except John Hunter. Thus 25 minutes later patient Burley left with a little scar sans 9 lb. useless appendage that Hunter had expertly evacuated.

“Not for the prudish” Moore paints a vibrant a visceral portrait into surgery, suffering and sickness witnessed through the eyes, hands and senses of a brilliant surgeon, John Hunter.”
---India M. Clamp

Surgeon John Hunter was the youngest of ten children. Hunter used the scientific method in his practices and thus demonstrated the interconnectedness of all life. Many accolades including his marriage to a poet, patient King George III and the Copley medal win.

In the 1700’s the medical community had no idea of germs and hand washing (pre/post-surgery). Surgical instruments were encrusted with pus and remnants from the previous surgery. Blood loss and infection was the causality for death. Surgery in the late 1700’s was for the brave and was not illuminated as we find most surgical theatres now. Superb! Buy, learn and discuss.

1 person found this helpful

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Passionate, driven, brilliant, autodidact- buy it!

Where does The Knife Man rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Among my favorites. I will listen again. It has inspired me to visit the Hunterian Museum ASAP.

What did you like best about this story?

John Hunter was such a facinating man; determined to learn everything that he could about all life and their connections to each other; relentess in his pursuit of knowledge and understanding; ruthless in aquisition of subjects/specimens; loved and revered by his students; despised by much of the established medical community.No organism was too large or too small to capture his interest and compel his investigation.Though his ethics run to the shady side, there is no doubt that his investigations, experiments, and discoveries propelled, medicine, surgery, and natural history/science far beyond where they would be without him.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Hearing what happened to his documents after his death infuriated and sickened me.

Any additional comments?

This book is laid out in such a way that you may easily listen to it a chapter at a time. However, I dare you to put it down. I finished it in a day and a half 😀

3 people found this helpful

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A Really Great Listen

The 18th Century was an interesting time in Medicine when it came to the training of physicians and surgery, but of course cadavers were needed for colleges. Most doctors were content just doing the same old barbaric practices, but there were trail blazers such as John Hunter. This book is not for the squeamish, but for all intents and purposes, it is a well stitched novel thats factual. A great read or listen, but to be a patient during those days, they were the true heroes of medicine. Do not let the cover of the book scare you away though, as the book is very informative both too both fiction and non-fiction readers. A must read in my opinion.

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Not for the Faint of Heart

Since I work in medicine, I am always fascinated by how we got to where we are today. It is hard, I think, for most people to comprehend what had to happen through the centuries to get here.
As I said, this book is not for the faint of heart. Some of it is so graphic, that you just have to stop listening for a few minutes because it is so appalling. But then, on the other hand, you have to appreciate the dedication of this man. He had discovered things about human anatomy, and wrote his conclusions, sometimes 50 years before anyone else. He never got credit for many of his discoveries.
Well researched and well written.
Narration excellent also. But as I said, be prepared.