Review: UNDER THE KNIFE: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold Van de Laar (2018)

Genre: Adult Science Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Infections, sutures, stitches, fatphobia (mentions of obesity), gore, blood, old-timey medicine

Clearly, my non-fiction reads have taken on a specific mood. We have more gross human anatomy and the things people have done to it. This time, it’s not about cadavers, but about the major turning points in development of the operational theater.

Van de Laar clearly has a passion for the work he does. He takes great care describing the importance of his work, but also contextualizing the attitudes and beliefs leading up to the pivotal changes.

My knowledge about medical history barely scratches the surface, so it feels disingenuous to say that I learned a lot. But I did! The histories told here are as interesting as the voyeurism of someone explaining medical procedures. Particular highlights include Bob Marley’s toe, Pope John Paul II’s bullet wound, and the number of times I whispered, “Oh no, don’t do that” while listening. Your mileage may vary depending on your squeamishness when it comes to infections and related.

Review: STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2004)

Genre: Adult Sciene Nonfiction
Year Release: 2004
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Human remains, death, decapitation, cannibalism, old-timey medicine and related horrors

This book is not one for weak stomachs, no matter how much humor she injects between each grisly detail. Starting with a visit to the morgue, Roach meticulously goes through the history of how surgical preparation and practice came to be.

But the scope of the book also covers consumption of human flesh for medicinal purpose, human decomposition, the science of head transplants, crash test dummies, the Shroud of Turin, and much, much more.

It’s interesting and I would highly advise against eating this while eating. Ultimately, it’s strangely wholesome and about the ways the dead can bring people and cultures together.