The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery
Broadway Books, 2005 - 341 pages
When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his gothic horror story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he reputedly based the house of the genial doctor turned fiend on the home of the 18thC surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. The choice was understandable, for Hunter combined an altruistic determination to advance scientific knowledge with dark dealings that brought him into daily contact with the sinister Georgian underworld. In 18thC London, Hunter was a man both acclaimed and feared. Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Hunter dissected thousands of human bodies, using the knowledge he gained to improve medical care for countless patients. Treating not only the poor but also some of the most illustrious characters of the time, such as Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron, he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and served in the Seven Years War where, following long, bloody battles, he patched up the unfortunate casualties' musket wounds and bayonet injuries. Considered by many to be the father of modern surgery, Hunter was also an eminent naturalist; he dissected the first creatures brought back from Captain Cook's voyages to Australia and kept exotic animals in his country menagerie in Earls Court; his eventual thesis outlining his ideas on evolution included a passage headed, 'On the origin of species'. Written some 60 years before Darwin's famous paper, this potentially groundbreaking work was suppressed on religious grounds by the Royal Society. Ultimately, he created the largest anatomical collection of its kind u which has been called 'a museum of evolution' u still to be seen in central London. Although a leading figure of the Enlightenment, and friend to many influential men of his age, Hunter's tireless quest for human and animal bodies drove him to unparalleled extremes that immersed in the murky world of body-snatching. He paid large sums to his criminal contacts for the stolen corpses of men, women and children which were delivered in hampers to his back door.
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Two out of five patients died from the procedure in Paris in the eighteenth century
, and success rates were unlikely to ... surgeons could blunder about for up to an
hour , while their shrieking patient expired on the table due to loss of blood .
Yet for a patient to gain admission to a voluntary hospital could be nearly as hard
as obtaining an audience with royalty . As well ... Patients admitted to St . George
' s therefore suffered a variety of contagious diseases , including scarlet fever ...
While Hunter would have offered house visits for his wealthier patients , many
may well have preferred to visit his surgery incognito , along with his clients of
lesser means , rather than reveal their condition to family and servants . Venereal
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The knife man: the extraordinary life and times of John Hunter, father of modern surgeryUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
John Hunter, the almost forgotten 18thcentury polymath (and possibly the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevensons Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) finally gets the biography he deserves in British journalist ... Read full review
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