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The Butchering Art

Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Long-listed for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize
A Top 10 Science Book of Fall 2017, Publishers Weekly
A Best History Book of 2017, The Guardian

"Warning: She spares no detail!" —Erik Larson, bestselling author of Dead Wake

In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than 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 riddle and change the course of history.

Fitzharris dramatically reconstructs Lister’s career path to his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection and could be countered by a sterilizing agent applied to wounds. She introduces us to Lister’s contemporaries—some of them brilliant, some outright criminal—and leads us through the grimy schools and squalid hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied, and the cemeteries they 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.

Customer Reviews

A great view of the past

It’s so apparent why people have medical issues today with doctors, hospitals, and going under the knife! This history is a gruesome best and must read!


Very well done. Anyone who works in healthcare would appreciate this book!

An absolutely incredible book

I have a lot to say about Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris’s “The Butchering Art,” that I can’t possibly distill into an as eloquent and adequately adulatory statement as I would like it to be, given the character limit here. However, I’m going to attempt it.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as captivating, powerful, vivid, uplifting, and impactful as “The Butchering Art.” From start to finish, you are swept up in this incredible tale of Joseph Lister’s life, bearing witness to his trials, his triumphs, and the awe-inspiring depth of his commitment to save lives. Dr. Fitzharris effortlessly illustrates Lister’s world - you can practically hear the rending of flesh and the slicing of tendons as she yanks you straight out of your armchair or bus seat, and deposits you in the front row of the operating theatre. Her writing is both incredibly evocative and graphic, and she depicts both surgical procedures and Lister’s personal journeys with equal ease.

For books that focus on hard sciences, there is the potential risk of sounding dry or overly technical; no such worry here with Dr. Fitzharris. She brings Lister and his legacy to life so beautifully. The way she delves into Lister’s personal battles - and shows us not only the scientist with whom we are familiar, but also the deeply compassionate man who fought tooth and nail to improve the lives of his patients - will forever change the way you understand just how essential Lister’s role was in shaping modern surgery.

I finished the book both humbled by Joseph Lister's dedication to advancing science and medicine, and also thoroughly inspired by Dr. Fitzharris’s impeccable storytelling abilities. “The Butchering Art” is one of those rare books where you reach the last page, and wish desperately that there was still more to read. Thank you, Dr. Fitzharris, for this beautiful book, for all the research and effort that went into it, and for honouring Lister’s legacy so magnificently. I loved every word of it.

The Butchering Art
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Oct 17, 2017
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Seller: Macmillan
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings