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on 1 December 2008
I saw some of the TV series on which this book is based and found it utterly fascinating so I just had to buy the book to find out the bits I missed on TV. The title makes it sound very gruesome and whilst some of the techniques covered live up to this title the way it is written makes it very enjoyable and entertaining to read without making you feel in the least bit queazy. It really highlights the way the surgical techniques we have today have been founded on the ideas of pioneers who came up with inventions ranging from the astounding to the downright bizarre and morally questionable. Throughout the book I was constantly asking myself "how on earth did they come up with that?!" These really are people who were prepared to try absolutely anything in the pursuit of medical advancement. There are also some excellent pictures and photos which illustrate the techniques discussed. This is really the most interesting book I have ever read and I'd recommend it to anyone.
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For a book that considers the huge progress made in surgery over the last 100 years or so, it reads well in an entertaining fashion. A tie-in with the TV series and one which is well worth buying if that series whetted your appetite.

The fact that it is so well written should not detract from the horrors that went before; the succeses often outweighed by the failures and at what cost to individual lives? But, to coin a phrase, there is no gain without pain and both the book and the series manage to convey that despite this - or probably because of this - we are where we are now in terms of the skill we've achieved. So many lives now saved - or certainly improved - that the pioneers of yesteryear unintentionally deserve the title of the book.

If you haven't seen the series buy the book, if you have seen it, buy it anyway because there are sections not shown which only add to the overall thrust of this highly entertaining and informative medical journey.
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on 22 November 2009
This is a fantastic book. Like other reviewers my attention was drawn to it by the superb BBC4 series of the same name upon which the book is based (still not available on DVD incidentally - why is that?). Written in a drama-documentary style it is packed with numerous fascinating and bizarre case histories of pioneering surgery that reveal just how precarious operations were - still are - and the enormous obstacles that had to be overcome in the name of progress. It is wonderfully written with just the right level of gruesome detail to delight (and occasionally repulse) readers of all ages. Highly recommended!
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on 23 June 2011
A superb book by nothing pretentious that hasn't illustrations nor squares to remark the "main" contents. It's only plain text, but excellent and I think there are no much books about history of surgery.
The title is very opportune, as perhaps few people know a surgeon needs to be a trained professional, but also a daring one. If not, and if he's a timid or coward person, it's not uncommon in real surgery a bad physician to abandon an unfinished intervention, retire from the operating room or suffer an anxiety crisis and the work then must be finished by another surgeon. A real bad thing.
For me the more interesting is the biography of Harvey Cushing, pioneer in neurosurgery. It's not uncommon such dedicate medical men to seem hard and insensible to others, as his work is practically the whole life for this class of persons. Worth from beginning to end and without the usual stupidities of today telefilms and fashion Hollywood surgeons and physicians. Perhaps it lacks that lobotomies were conceived effectively by Portuguese Dr. Egas Moniz, but mostly performed in practice by his colleague Almeida Lima.
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on 25 August 2008
Blood and Guts is a pithy and readable history of surgery that does not hold back on the successes and the botches.

One of the most amusing anecdotes became known as the "night of the pigs" and takes place in the National Heart Hospital in London in 1969.

Surgeon Donald Longmore waits for a delivery of pigs. He plans to graft a pig's heart and lungs into a patient to keep him alive. One pig has other ideas and makes its escape onto Wimpole Street, pursued by gowned, capped, masked and booted theatre staff.

The pig, now secured by the expert team, is taken to the mortuary to be put to sleep, but the anaesthetist assigned to the task is Jewish. Another anaesthetist is found, but there is another problem: the patient is also Jewish and unconscious so unable to take any decisions for himself. Mr. Longmore calls a rabbi who in fits of laughter gives the go ahead for a genuine attempt to save the patient's life. Unfortunately, the operation fails in its final stages owing to an unforeseen reaction of pig heart to an injection of calcium.

Medical mavericks seem to have been responsible for much surgical progress, so it's surprising to read how often innovations we now take for granted were at first rejected by established leaders and institutions. Plus ca change!
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on 19 June 2010
I spotted this in my local library. I had seen the television series, and enjoyed it very much. The book itself is more detailed, and whilst not a comprehensive guide to surgery, it picks out many of the key achievements of the past. It is very readable, yet informatve. It certainly makes you appreciate being born in recent times. Thank goodness there were courageous men (sadly, no women are mentioned-a true sign of the times) willing to push the boundries, and perform proceedures which often failed, or left them subject to ridicule by their peers. It is only due to persistance and innovative techniques, there we are where we are today. Long may such people exist, and strive for greater improvements in medicine for future generations. A must read!
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on 19 August 2011
This is a book written as a partner to a BBC television series. It is a riveting read from the forward to the last page. It is presented in an easy to read and thoroughly entertaining manner. As an anatomist and lecturer myself my opinion may appear slighty bias toward the content however I have seldom read a more entertaining commentry on what some would perhaps find a somewhat squeamish subject. I cannot recommend this highly enough for those with even a passing interest in surgery or anatomy with more than a little of the "dark" side revealed. A real page turner.
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on 24 July 2009
Sometimes when you read books about medicine they are filled with jargon that you'd need to be a surgeon to understand-not this book. It's written in a fluid and compulsive way that makes you want to keep on reading eager to find out how medicine developed.
They are some very entertaining stories about the ups and downs of medical progress some are very poignant when you consider that just 100 years ago your chances of surviving surgery were quite low.
A brilliant accompaniment to the BBC series although a excellent stand alone book.
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on 13 April 2014
Having had heart surgery, I was interested in reading up about the history of surgery and this book gives quite a good overview for the layman. However, be prepared for the most awful writing style, akin to many tabloid newspapers and reality TV producers. Each surgical procedure is introduced by a preamble that is intended to exemplify a particular milestone in history. But when the actual course of the operation commences, the author, Richard Hollingham, switches to present tense! Like I just did! You don't notice at first, but after several chapters, you realise that he has a habit and he's going to stick to it come what may. I should think all his writing is quickly identifiable as his. (Note that Michael Mosley's contribution is merely the Foreword.)

There are plenty of fascinating facts to discover. I was astonished to find that the first successful operation on a heart was performed in Germany in 1896. The terrible pain suffered by victims of surgery before the advent of ether and chloroform is unimaginable today, when even a toothache can make us wish we were dead. All surgical patients today have to thank their lucky stars for the great strides that have been made in the past 150 years.
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on 4 December 2010
Richard Hollingham's book is just what I was after. A very entertaining read with more than a few eye-openers. A fascinating journey, with its share of sad and misguided ventures but overwhelming it reflects the ingenuity and drive of the people who brought surgery to where it is today.
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