The vivid, often gruesome portrait of the 18th-century pioneering surgeon and father of modern medicine, John Hunter.
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 eighteenth 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 sixty 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.
Brilliant anatomist, foul-mouthed and well met, avid empiricist and grave robber, John Hunter cut an astonishing figure in Georgian England. Born in Scotland in 1728, he followed his brother, a renowned physician, to London and into the intellectually grasping, fiercely competitive world of professional medicine. With ample servings of 18th-century filth and gore, Moore offers a vivid look at this remarkable period in science history, when many of the most impressive advances were made by relentless iconoclasts like Hunter. In an age when ancient notions of bodily humors still smothered medical thinking, Hunter challenged orthodoxy whenever facts were absent which was usually the case. A prodigious experimenter to the point of obsession he dissected thousands of corpses and countless animals (many of them living) in his effort to define the nature of the human body. Yet he was also an early adherent of medical minimalism, shunning bloodletting by default and advocating physical therapy over invasive surgeries. This is a deftly written and informative tale that will please readers of science history, period buffs and everyone in between.
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The Knife Man by Wendy Moore
Highly addictive reading! So absorbing that even the notes at the end are an interesting read!
A man so far ahead of his time! Mind-boggling to think of the “what-ifs” in his story; especially how much further advanced medicine might be had those who opposed him actually supported John Hunter instead.
Jenny Cate, RN
The Knife Man
I am very disappointed because after two attempts at downloading this excellent book, I am only getting the first few chapters of it, and "error messages" where the other chapters should be. Having read it in hard copy, I must say that my iPad has butchered a fine read. Does Wendy Moore know what is happening to this book??? An electronic knife man attack.