Hey Everyone! It’s First Line Friday. So grab a book near you and share the first line in the comments below!
Today I’m sharing the first line from The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris. It is a nonfiction book on Joseph Lister’s Quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine. I picked it up with plans to skim it for research questions pertaining to a work in progress and wound up devouring it like a novel. Seriously, I read this thing cover to cover which is not my norm for a nonfiction book. It is very well written and I found the medical history combined with Lister’s personal life to be simply fascinating. That said, it’s probably not something you want to read over lunch.
Here are the first lines:
On the afternoon of December 21, 1846, hundreds of men crowded into the operating theater at London’s University College Hospital, where the city’s most renowned surgeon was preparing to enthrall them with a mid-thigh amputation.
Winner, 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Short-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
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.
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