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Digging Up the Dead: Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon Hardcover – 1 Mar 2007

15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; First Edition edition (1 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701179856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701179854
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,057,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"In this vivid account of 18th-century surgeon Astley Cooper's
life, Druin Burch tells of how the master dissector rose to become Royal
Surgeon to three successive monarchs and a member of the Royal Society...
Burch, also a doctor, mixes his narrative with recollections with
recollections from his own practice, which serve to enhance this lively
biography... All in all, a jolly good read"
-- BBC History Magazine

"a brilliant portrait of surgical life before the coming of anaesthesia, anitisepsis, antibiotics, and professional regulations" -- Literary Review, April 2007

'A fascinating insight into medical history and a real taste of
life at that time' -- BBC Focus

'Burch is an expert guide to the clinical reality of surgery in
Cooper's day' -- Nicholas Roe, Independent

'Burch is at his best.'
-- Sunday Telegraph

'Burch presents a past and present view of hernias, septicaemia,
aneurysms, even a case of what we now term Munchausen's syndrome'
-- Daily Telegraph

'Cooper, the resurrection man, would have approved both the
sentiment and this biography.' -- THES

'This wide-ranging biography, in his first book, adorns historical
insight with the gloriously gruesome detail of an anatomy textbook.' -- New Scientist

'an ambitious and convincing attempt to bring back to life the man
who was responsible for so many less respectable acts of resurrection' -- New Statesman

'does justice to a complex and not altogether pleasant man with
wit and intelligence'
-- Ian Simmons, Fortean Times

Book Description

The gripping unknown story of a surgeon and his world (from grave robbers to the Prince Regent), told vividly from the inside by someone who is himself a young practising physician, who gives us a real insight into medical history and adds his own intimate, modern experience.

Inside This Book

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mr. C. Alexandrou on 22 Aug. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Druin Burch's exposition on the life and times of the world famous surgeon Astley Cooper is not only a brilliantly researched and written medical biography but also an exceptional biography full stop, as well as a great read.

He outlines the life of an extraordinary person, and manages to draw the reader in to not only the details of his life, but also the feelings he must have felt as he pioneered the types of basic surgery we take for granted. Exposing a fair bit of himself in the process, Burch has written a book that is easily readable by laypeople and gives an insight into traditional surgery - raw, unadulterated and with no anaesthetic !

For those interested in life in 17th and 18th century England, the book does not disappoint and Burch does a great job in recreating the sights and smells of the era.

All in all, well worth a read and an exciting book for a first time author.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Muir on 16 May 2008
Format: Paperback
In today's western society, more bodies are donated to medical science than are required, but in the latter part of the eighteenth century, procurement of human cadavers was the lucrative occupation of the grave robbers. Dissection of human specimens, alive or dead, was a professional necessity for the young man who wished to become a surgeon.
Digging up the Dead is the biography of Astley Cooper (1768 - 1841), a man whose initial aspirations were to graduate from apothecary to surgeon and thence the role of physician. A man who rose to be the richest surgeon in Georgian England.
Digging up the Dead also provides an absorbing insight into the age when surgical procedures and anatomical knowledge were severely limited; where surgery was often experimental and where the unfortunate patients faced both excruciating pain and the high risk of mortality.
Soon after commencing his seven year's medical apprenticeship in London, Cooper became intrigued with the science of surgical procedures - more specifically the art of human dissection. He believed that only through dissection, vivisection and surgery could the mechanisms of life be unravelled.
Though he preferred to hone his skill on the partially decomposed flesh of human cadavers, he also welcomed the opportunity to dissect and examine either live or dead animals. His specimens ranged from dogs and cats to exotics such as an elephant, kangaroo and whale.
Astley Cooper was a man of startling contrasts spending an hour a day with his hairdresser and insisting on wearing the finest silk stockings to complement the shape of his calf muscles.
Read more ›
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mr. O. Dunkin on 7 Jun. 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have no medical training whatsoever, must confess that I had not heard of Sir Astley Cooper and am bordering on the unneccessarily squeamish in medical matters, yet I found this to be a thoroughly engaging, well written and unusually well-informed biography which held my attention from beginning to end.

Being a doctor and experienced in A&E has given Druin Burch an unique position from which to write about and review the life of a surgeon of two centuries ago. The juxtaposition of modern-day gore in the life of an hospital doctor with the frightening world of the surgeon (and in particular the patient) of the early nineteenth century could so easily have jarred but Burch works the two together seamlessly throughout the book and they help each other enormously.

It also contains easily the most revolting pair of sentences I have ever read together in any work.

Very difficult to believe that this is the first book from the author. Impossible to believe that it will be the last.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Joan H. Hammond on 31 May 2007
Format: Hardcover
Druin Burch has opened up the doors of the 18th century dead house, lifted the lid on the coffins and takes the reader inside the mind of Astley Cooper's incredible life during a period of vast social, scientific and political changes. Burch does not attempt to dumb down Cooper's world, and uses it as a framework to provide the reader with a detailed insight of what being a physician and/or surgeon was all about. For medical historians, this is a must-read, and one you will not want to leave alone. Succinctly put, this publication is an education in itself and very well worth the 5 stars I have awarded.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Janette on 13 May 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book hoping to help my research into ressurectionists - in that respect I was disappointed BUT instead I read a thoroughly researched work on the private and professional life of (Sir) Ashley Cooper. The text was enhanced by the fact that the author is himself a doctor and ran a small thread of his own life alongside the main storyline to explain some medical terms and experiences - this worked well.

I was aware of the importance of Ashley Cooper but knew little about his work other than in a very general aspect. By the end of the book I was immensely grateful to him for being such a free thinker and pioneer into medical science that we all benefit from today. I felt the context was well researched, not subject to conjecture and well written - I have no medical knowledge but interested in that period of history and rapidly became engrossed in the book.

I only really purchased the book on a bit of a whim but I am thoroughly glad I did.
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