On 1 November 1666, a young farmer named Abraham Morten took one final, agonizing breath. He was the last of 260 people to die of bubonic plague in the remote village of Eyam in Derbyshire. His fate had been sealed four months earlier when villagers decided to shut themselves off from the rest of the world: a sacrifice they made in order to save the lives of their neighbors in surrounding villages. The nightmare began on an unremarkable day in September, 1665. George Viccars—a local tailor in Eyam—received a consignment of cloth from London for his shop. Upon inspection, Viccars [...]
In Episode 15 of Under The Knife, I explore the horrible reality behind dental practices from the past, including how dentures used to be made from the teeth of executed criminals, exhumed bodies, and sometimes even slaves. Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here) and the UK (click here). And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!
On 12 November 1935, a Portuguese neurologist named Antonio Egas Moniz [below right] became the first individual to perform what would later be known as a lobotomy. Moniz’s work built upon that of the 19th-century Swiss psychiatrist, Gottlieb Burkhardt, who performed a series of operations in 1888 in which he removed sections of the cerebral cortex from six patients under his care at the Préfargier Asylum. Moniz’s early experiments involved drilling holes into patients’ skulls and pouring alcohol into the frontal cortex in order to sever nerves; and coring out regions of the brain with hollow needles. Moniz’s lobotomy [...]
In Episode 14 of Under The Knife, I discuss how the executions of thousands of people fed the anatomy schools in the 18th and 19th centuries. Warning: heads will roll! Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here) and the UK (click here). And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!
If you visit the Gordon Museum at Guy’s Hospital in London, you'll see a small bladder stone—no bigger than 3 centimetres across. Besides the fact that it has been sliced open to reveal concentric circles within, it is entirely unremarkable in appearance. Yet, this tiny stone was the source of enormous pain for 53-year-old Stephen Pollard, who agreed to undergo surgery to remove it in 1828. People frequently suffered from bladder stones in earlier periods due to poor diet, which often consisted of lots of meat and alcohol, and very few vegetables. The oldest bladder stone on record was discovered in Egyptian grave [...]
I’m thrilled to reveal the UK cover for my upcoming book THE BUTCHERING ART, which will be published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin, on October 17th. The book tells the story of the surgeon Joseph Lister and his quest to transform the brutal world of Victorian surgery through antisepsis. For those of you who are familiar with the US cover (right), you’ll notice a lot of similarities. The US cover features a painting by the 19th-century artist Thomas Eakins. It depicts the surgeon Samuel Gross, who didn’t believe in the existence of germs and made a point of [...]
The word “hysteria” conjures up an array of images, none of which probably include a nomadic uterus wandering aimlessly around the female body. Yet that is precisely what medical practitioners in the past believed was the cause behind this mysterious disorder. The very word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word hystera, meaning “womb,” and arises from medical misunderstandings of basic female anatomy. Today, hysteria is regarded as a physical expression of a mental conflict and can affect anyone regardless of age or gender.  Centuries ago, however, it was attributed only to women, and believed to be physiological (not psychological) [...]
In Episode 13 of Under The Knife, I discuss the history behind reusable condoms, and the terrible diseases that made them necessary in earlier centuries. The video may or may not also involve me wearing an inflatable condom costume... Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART by clicking here! And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!
The following blog post relates to my forthcoming book THE BUTCHERING ART, which you can pre-order here. Today, we think of the hospital as an exemplar of sanitation. However, during the first half of the nineteenth century, hospitals were anything but hygienic. They were breeding grounds for infection and provided only the most primitive facilities for the sick and dying, many of whom were housed on wards with little ventilation or access to clean water. As a result of this squalor, hospitals became known as “Houses of Death." The best that can be said about Victorian hospitals is that they were a slight improvement [...]
In Episode 12 of Under The Knife, I explore the grim reality facing medical students in earlier centuries when they first entered the dissection room, or “dead house,” as they called it. Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART by clicking here! And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!