Member Virtual Book Club

May 21, 2020
5 pm

Jane Neidhardt, head of publications, will lead Museum members in a discussion on The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris. Named one of the best history books of 2017 by The Guardian, Museum members will explore the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and follow Joseph Lister's journey as he claimed that germs were the source of all infections.

Victorian operating theaters were known as "gateways of death," Lindsey Fitzharris reminds us, since half of those who underwent surgery did not survive the experience. This was an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation, when surgeons often lacked university degrees and were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers. While the discovery of anesthesia somewhat lessened the misery for patients, ironically it led to more deaths, as surgeons took greater risks. In squalid, overcrowded hospitals, doctors remained baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery could not have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection—and could be treated with antiseptics—he changed the history of medicine forever.

With a novelist’s eye for detail, Fitzharris conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, revealing how one of Britain’s greatest medical minds finally brought centuries of savagery, sawing, and gangrene to an end.

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Participation is free, but registration is required. Participants will receive occasional emails with supplementary materials to accompany the book.

If you are interested in supporting local shops, The Butchering Art is available for curbside pick-up at some St. Louis bookstores.

About the author

Lindsey Fitzharris is a medical historian with a doctorate from the University of Oxford. The Butchering Art, her debut book, won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science in the United States and was shortlisted for both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Wolfson History Prize in the United Kingdom. She is the creator of the popular blog The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, as well as the host of the YouTube series Under the Knife. She has written for a variety of publications, including Scientific America, The Guardian, The Lancet, New Scientist, and The Huffington Post.