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

by Emily Yox, MPH

Each month, NACCHO brings you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. Book reviews in this series originally appeared on NACCHO Voice: The Word on Local health Departments and are republished here with permission.

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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.

Want to discuss this book and others? Head over to NACCHO’s Virtual Communities page and connect with peers.

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Emily Yox

Emily Yox is the Program Analyst for Global Health at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in Washington, DC. In her role, she encourages US local health departments to understand the valuable perspective that global health programs can provide to domestic public health work. Emily completed her MPH in Global Health Epidemiology and Disease Control at the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health. She also holds a BA in International Studies from American University, School of International Service.