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NACCHO Book Club: The Butchering Art-Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Sep 10, 2020 | Emily Yox

Each month, NACCHO will bring you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. We hope to provide a well-rounded reading list that you will find enjoyable as well as informative.

This book was recommended to me by a member of our NACCHO Book Club and it was a fascinating and quick read! As Dr. Fitzharris describes common hygiene practices (or lack thereof) in Victorian-era surgery, it’s a miracle anyone survived. Inspired by Pasteur’s new germ theory, Joseph Lister galvanized the idea that clean hands, tools, and surgical suites were crucial to patients’ survival. Actively ridiculed by many members of the medical community at the time, this story is a testament, not only to the revolutionary concept of hygienic surgical practices, but of sound reliance on science and the scientific method to improve medical practices. The book is both gripping and gory at times, but covers personal life and loss, as well as a fascinating historical review of a new age in surgery.

While this is Dr. Fitzharris’ only book, she also has a very popular blog called the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice and is the host of the YouTube video series Under the Knife, which takes a humorous look back at medical history. She is also slated to host a new show “The Curious Life and Death of...” which will premiere on the Smithsonian Channel in 2020.


About Emily Yox

Emily Yox is a Program Analyst for the Global Health program at NACCHO.

More posts by Emily Yox

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