New Events – Tickets now on Sale!

Hello, my long-lost subscribers! My deepest apologies for my radio silence these past few months: I’ve been hard at work on the second book about the history of plastic surgery; as well as other various projects. But I hope to publish a new blog post very soon. In the meantime, I’d like to draw your attention to some upcoming events I’ll be doing in the US and UK in the next couple of months.

 

First up is the CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL on Sunday, October 28th. I’ll be at the Ryan Center in Evanston talking about the brutal and bloody world of Victorian surgery, and signing copies of my book The Butchering Art. Tickets range from $20 (general admission) to $33 if you’d like to buy a book as well. The theme of the festival is GRAPHIC, so you know I won’t disappoint on that front! I hope to see you there. Click HERE for tickets.

 

Next up: I’ll be in Bloomington on Tuesday, October 30th speaking at my undergraduate alma-mater, ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY.  Spend an evening with me and learn about the brutal and bloody world of Victorian surgery—a place definitely not for the squeamish. I will discuss how surgeons, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. They rarely washed their hands or their instruments, and carried with them a cadaverous smell of rotting flesh, which those in the profession cheerfully referred to as “good old hospital stink.” The event is FREE but you must register as places are limited. Click HERE. [Painting by Christopher Fisher]

 

And last, but not least, I’ll be speaking in London on Sunday, December 9th at HISTFEST, is a brand new three-day history festival that will entertain, educate and feature an eclectic mix of talks, panel discussions, workshops and live performances. Come along, learn about the history of Victorian surgery and get a signed copy of The Butchering Art. You can purchase tickets HERE.

As always, you can also find a detailed list of upcoming events on my calendar. I hope to see you out there!

By | 2018-10-19T15:59:57+00:00 October 19th, 2018|BLOG|3 Comments

My New Book Deal

I’m so excited to announce that the subject of MY NEXT BOOK will be on the birth of plastic surgery told through the incredible story of Harold Gillies, the pioneering and eccentric surgeon who first united art and medicine to address the horrific injures that resulted from World War I.

From the moment that the “Dhak! Dhak! Dhak! Dhak!” of the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear: mankind’s military technology at the start of WWI wildly outpaced its medical capabilities. Bullets whizzed through the air at incredible speeds, discharging as much as 7,200 horsepower of energy in a single shot. Shells and mortar bombs exploded with a force that flung men around the battlefield like rag dolls. And a deadly new threat in the form of hot chunks of shrapnel—coated in the filth and bacteria of the battlefield—wrought terrible injuries on its victims. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of one man, these soldiers would have also been condemned to a lifetime of isolation.

My book will follow the story of Harold Gillies [pictured right, copyright: Dr. Andrew Bamji] who was presented with the seemingly impossible task of reconstructing entire faces with no textbooks to guide him, and no mentors to consult for advice. Working closely with a team of artists, Gillies did not just strive to restore function to his patients, many of whom could not breathe, swallow, or eat efficiently because of the damage to their faces. He was determined to give them back their identities as well. Here, you see an incredible example of reconstructive work from this era.

I can’t wait to share this inspiring story with the world.

As with all good news, there is a bittersweet side to this announcement. I’m thrilled to be working with my wonderful publisher FSG again, but sadly my editor Amanda Moon will be leaving next month to begin her own consulting business. She will be sorely missed, though I’m looking forward to working with the brilliant Colin Dickerman on this second project.

By | 2018-03-07T14:36:30+00:00 February 21st, 2018|BLOG, Casebooks|30 Comments

The Butchering Art – BOOK TRAILER!

With just one week left until the launch of my debut book, it’s my great pleasure to unveil the trailer for The Butchering Art.

A great deal of love, thought and care has gone into the many weeks of its production. As someone who relishes the visual elements of the past, I wanted to see how the sights and sounds of grimy, grisly Victorian surgery would translate onto screen. So, I set out with filmmaker Alex Anstey of Light Arcade Productions to create a short film that thrusts the viewer straight into the brutal action of the era’s operating theaters, in which survival depended as much upon chance as upon the skills of the butcher wielding the blade.

Alex is truly a craftsman of story in film form and has a painter’s eye for detail and light. He used three locations—a small film studio, the Old Operating Theatre in the heart of London, and a Westminster street in the dead of night—to help bring to life a bloody amputation of the era.

We hope you enjoy the trailer, and that it will give you all a feel of what I have tried to achieve on the page. Please share it widely on social media! And don’t forget you can pre-order the book ahead of its launch on October 17th.

By | 2017-10-16T18:00:18+00:00 October 10th, 2017|BLOG, Casebooks|5 Comments

Our Enduring Preoccupation with Premature Burial

Hours before he died, George Washington told his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” This kind of request was not uncommon. In an era when putrefaction was the only sure sign of death, many people inthe past feared being buried alive.

Indeed, Washington’s nephew was even more paranoid than the former president. He ordered: “my thumbs are not to be tied together—nor anything put on my face or any restraint upon my Person by Bandages, &c. My Body is to be placed in an entirely plain coffin with a flat Top and a sufficient number of holes bored through the lid and sides—particularly about the face and head to allow Respiration if Resuscitation should take place and having been kept so long as to ascertain whether decay may have occurred or not, the coffin is to be closed up.”

By the 19th century, being trapped inside a coffin was a favorite plot twist for writers of macabre fiction, such as Edgar Allan Poe, whose story The Premature Burial (1844) contributed to the public preoccupation with the subject. Anxiety about premature burial was so widespread that, in 1891, the Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli coined the medical term for it: taphephobia (Greek for “grave” + “fear.”)

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This phobia led to the creation of so-called “safety coffins.” In 1790,  Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick had built the first coffin of this kind, which included a window to allow in light, and a tube to provide a fresh supply of air. The lid of the coffin was then locked and two keys were fitted into a special pocket sewn into his burial shroud: one for the coffin itself and one for the tomb.

Many of the safety coffins that came afterward were touted as “tried and tested.” In 1822, Dr Adolf Gutsmuth consigned himself to the grave in a coffin he had designed personally. For several hours, he remained underground, during which time he consumed a meal of soup, sausages, and beer—all delivered to him through a convenient feeding tube built into the coffin. The Germans were particularly ingenious when it came to safety coffins, patenting over 30 different designs in the 19th century. The best-known model was the brainchild of Dr Johann Gottfried Taberger, and it included a system of ropes that attached the corpse’s hands, feet, and head to an above-ground bell. Although many subsequent designs tried to incorporate this feature, it was by-and-large a design failure. What Dr Taberger didn’t take into account is the fact that the body begins to bloat and swell as it decomposes, causing it to shift inside the coffin. These tiny movements would have set the bells ringing, and visitors to the cemetery running.

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The Russian Count Michel de Karnice-Karnicki’s design was an evengreater disaster than most. In 1897, he buried one of his assistants in order to demonstrate the features of his safety coffin. If the device detected movement from within, it was rigged to open a tube which would allow air to flow while simultaneously raising a flag and ringing a bell. Unfortunately, none of the features worked and the demonstration failed miserably. While the assistant survived, Karnice-Karnicki’s reputation did not.

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These unsettling coffin designs came from an American doctor named Timothy Clark Smith who was so terrified of being buried alive that he created a grave that even today intrigues and frightens visitors to Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Vermont. When Dr Smith died—aptly enough on Halloween, 1893—his body was interred in a most unusual crypt, with his face positioned at the bottom of a cement tube. This was capped with a piece of plate glass that would allow the unfortunate doctor to gaze upward in the event of his premature burial. Visitors to the cemetery used to report that they could peer down inside the grave and see Dr Smith’s decomposing head. Nowadays, all you can see is darkness and a bit of condensation.

Escape coffins were also built for those who didn’t have the patience to wait for someone to come to the rescue. One such coffin–intended for use in vaults–had a spring-loaded lid that could be opened with a slight movement of the head or hand. Another example was built by retired firefighter Thomas Pursell for himself and his family. Located at Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the ventilated vault can be opened from the inside by a handwheel attached to the door. Pursell was buried there in 1937.

If all of this seems a bit irrational to your modern sensibilities, consider the fact that safety coffins are still available for purchase today. In 1995, Fabrizio Caselli invented a model that includes an emergency alarm, a two-way intercom, a flashlight, an oxygen tank, a heartbeat sensor and a heart stimulator.  Taphephobia is far from dead and buried!

You can now pre-order my book, all about the bloody & brutal world of Victorian surgery. Pre-orders are incredibly helpful to new authors. Your support is greatly appreciated. US link HERE, UK link HERE, Canadian link HERE, Australian linkHERE. Info on other foreign editions to come.

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By | 2017-09-15T13:55:04+00:00 August 16th, 2017|BLOG|0 Comments