What’s it all about?:
In Under the Knife, surgeon Arnold Van de Laar uses his own experience and expertise to tell the witty history of the past, present and future of surgery.
From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder to Bob Marley’s deadly toe, Under the Knife offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights into medicine and history via the operating theatre.
What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery?
From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today’s sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history, and a modern anatomy class for us all.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to John Murray Press and Book Bridgr for sending me this review copy at a time when I was delighted to have a new, shiny book to delve into. Who am I kidding? I’m ALWAYS happy to have a new, shiny book as a bibliophile, right? But seriously, I was going through a tough time and Under The Knife came as a pleasant surprise as I had requested it some time ago and thought that I had been unsuccessful in getting it so when my cheery postman brought it round, it was a very welcome addition to my collection. Personally, I found it was easier to read this non-fiction tome in shorter sections to be able to absorb all the information the author was throwing at the reader and to avoid becoming over-saturated in medical jargon. Although, don’t get me wrong, this piece of popular science is highly accessible to people who may not necessarily have a scientific background. Everything is explained methodically, without ever seeming patronising. It just may be a bit too much medical/surgical descriptions to take if you try to binge read it all at once, in my opinion.
Arnold van de Laar, author of Under The Knife.
Under The Knife can be explained as a history of surgery, but more specifically, twenty-eight particular operations that have been carried out on notable figures through history and have changed the face of medicine as a result. One of the more horrifying cases that van de Laar explores is lithotomy (translated as “stone cutting,”) which involved a Dutch man, blacksmith Jan de Doot (with NO prior surgical knowledge) in 1651 who performed an operation on himself to cut out his own bladder stone when the agony of it became too unbearable for him to suffer anymore and he didn’t trust anyone else to do it. Staggeringly enough for those times, he survived and over the next fifty years, doctors learned much more about what causes these particular types of bladder stones making it a relatively rare condition now. We also investigate the story of Bob Marley who because of his beliefs, flatly refused to have his cancerous toe amputated and died as a result, the tendency for obesity in Popes and how Queen Victoria pioneered a new movement in the realms of anaesthesia.
Jan de Doot in 1655, proud owner of a bladder stone and survivor of surgery by his own hands.
I’ve always been fascinated by the history of surgery which was one of the reasons I requested this book for review. This book wasn’t exactly what I expected but I think that was a good thing. It was less of a time-line through our past and how surgery has developed but a more in-depth look at specific instances where surgery has changed individual lives or advanced the field as a whole to improve survival rates in the future, even paving the way for better, more efficient technologies. As you might expect with a book all about surgery, it has quite gruesome, detailed moments including graphic descriptions of surgery so if that’s in any way unpalatable to you, just letting you know! For me, I found it to be an interesting insight into the world of trauma and illness, how our body copes, the pressures that the surgeon is under to “fix us,” and how the body heals itself after the process is completed.
It’s amazing and quite frankly, mind-blowing to see how much surgery has advanced through the years – can you ever imagine having to have an operation without any anaesthetic? Or how about when blood-letting was considered a normal procedure for someone who was gravely ill? Arnold van de Laar uses his vast experience as a specialist laparoscopic surgeon to present us with facts, statistics and precise, engaging information about surgery and how it’s changed over the years, thankfully for the better!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):