Digging Up the Dead: Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon by Druin Burch - review by Chandak Sengoopta

Chandak Sengoopta

Hero of the Hernia

Digging Up the Dead: Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon

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Chatto & Windus 278pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Surgery today may not always be safe, but it is no longer the bloody, insanitary and excruciating business it was two hundred years ago. Before the coming of anaesthesia and aseptic techniques, an operation often amounted to a death sentence on the patient. Complex internal operations were unimaginable in such unsanitary circumstances, and even the technically simpler forms of surgery could often be fatal because of shock and blood-loss. If the patient survived the operation, he was often killed by a post-operative infection.

In the eighteenth century surgery was anything but a learned profession – one could not even rely on a surgeon’s knowledge of human anatomy. Although all aspiring surgeons received some anatomical training, the teaching was superficial, and often hampered by a scarcity of cadavers for dissection. And learning on the

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