Review: The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Title: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Author: Lindsey Fitzharris

Genre: Nonfiction, Medical History

Pages: 284

Read: February 15, 2021

5 stars - I loved it!
5 stars – I loved it!

“Surviving the knife was only half the battle.”

In The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris takes us through the shocking world of 19th century surgery. This book follows the life of Joseph Lister, a surgeon who changed the world of medicine forever with his discovery of antiseptics to prevent infection. He pioneered the way for germ theory in a time when this was considered unbelievable and ridiculous.  

This book was fascinating. Fitzharris took us on a detailed journey through Lister’s life as a surgeon and his extensive experiments to save his patients. Lister was a determined man who spent his life working to uncover the causes of infection and the best ways to prevent them. He never settled for one method. He constantly was revamping his process to perfect it. His drive to constantly standardize and perfect his work forever changed the history of surgery. If he hadn’t been this determined, surgery would have never progressed to the stage it is now. 

His determination to prevent infection also saved other aspects of the medical world, such as large hospitals. Before his method started to gain popularity, the death rates in hospitals were extremely high due to how filthy and crowded they were. It had gotten so bad that discussions were being made about shutting down large hospitals and returning to home care or small pop up clinics.  But Lister’s determination to progress surgery and teach antiseptics changed that and saved large hospitals. 

“Lister’s methods transformed surgery from a butchering art to a modern science, one where newly tried and tested methodologies trumped hackneyed practices. They opened up new frontiers in medicine—allowing us to delve further into the living body—and in the process they saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Lister was a fascinating man who spent his life dedicated to helping his patients heal from their infliction. While he had to deal with frequent negativity when he first introduced this practice, he refused to let it prevent him from teaching and preaching about his discoveries. Because of his determination to teach about antiseptics and sterile surgery his work slowly spread and gained popularity until it became a standard in hospitals and surgery. The medical world would have been a very different place if it wasn’t for Joseph Lister and his determination to educate his fellows, and the public, about antiseptics. 

Trigger Warnings:

  • Very detailed descriptions of 19th century surgery 
  • Detailed descriptions of wounds and injuries 
  • Experimentation of animals
  • Frequent death 

Goodreads / Amazon



2 thoughts on “Review: The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

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