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Scanty Particulars: The Life of Dr James Barry Hardcover – 2 May 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition, First Impression edition (2 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670890995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670890996
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.1 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 773,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Amazon Review

James Miranda Barry, the subject of Rachel Holmes's biography Scanty Particulars, was one of the great, forgotten pioneers of medicine and surgery in the 19th-century British empire. Posted to a series of far-flung corners of colonialism--from the Cape Colony to St Helena, the Caribbean to Canada--Barry was a consistent and charismatic evangelist for a saner and more scientific treatment of the sick and wounded. Argumentative and opinionated, Barry also gained enemies and attracted controversy. During his time at the Cape he fought for decent treatment of lepers and performed what was one of the first successful Caesarean operations in Western medical history. He also became embroiled in political in-fighting and melodrama when his close relationship with the governor, Lord Charles Somerset, was turned into a sexual scandal. After his death in London in 1865, Barry caused even more uproar. The woman who laid him out for burial had a strange story to tell. Doubts were raised about Barry's gender. Was "he" in fact a "she"? At a time when the medical profession was exclusively male, had a woman, for decades, played a role that contemporaries thought was only suitable for a man?

Holmes's life of Barry is undeniably fascinating but she struggles throughout her book with two difficulties, one of which is suggested by her title. There are indeed "scanty particulars" available about Barry's life and many important questions about him/her will always remain unanswered. The other difficulty is related to the first. Does Barry have an importance beyond the startling fact that "he" may have been a "she"? It is a tribute to Holmes's skill and depth of research that the answer most readers will reach is "Yes". Holmes has rescued from near-oblivion someone who, whatever their gender, was a genuine medical pioneer and highlights a person whose life raises interesting questions about fixed categories of gender. --Nick Rennison

Review

'Holmes has written a deeply compelling biography, which teases out the complex historical and philosophical issues of Barry's story with consummate skill and great empathy.' -- Literary Review

'Holmes' wonderfully argued postmortem has many twists and turns...(a) meticulously researched and fantastically discursive book.' -- Independent

'It is an extraordinary story and Rachel Holmes puts it to good use.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Just like her namesake, Holmes loves a good bit of detective work...(a) vivid, intelligent biography.' -- Observer

'Like all the best biographies, it is written by someone fascinated with her subject...and her enthusiasm for the doctor is (no pun intended) infectious...Rachel Holmes has done him proud.' -- Wendy Holden, Daily Express

'Rachel Holmes' study of this pioneering surgeon with an astonishing secret is serious, sympathetic and absolutely fascinating.' -- Mail on Sunday

'This clever and engaging book tells a fascinating story.' -- Jeanette Winterson, The Times

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the most compelling and gripping biography I have ever read. In an age when so many books are written to order, it is a real joy to find a book written by someone who's interest in the subject borders on obsession. To write this book, the author had to
- learn a new languuage (Latin)
- learn a new science (Anatomy), and
- spend 10 years of her life in graveyards and libraries
As a result, she has come up with a wealth of original material which makes the suject come to life and gives an insight into how people really lived then.
The only criticism that I would make is that some of the vocabulary (condumacious? adumbrate?) was so far above my range that I had to get out the dictionary for the first time since leaving school.
That aside,it is a great read both for lovers of biographies and for anyone who just enjoys a good story
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Format: Hardcover
'Scanty Particulars' is a brave and poignant first book that captured the imagination, and attention, of a reader totally uninterested in both the subject and subject matter. Holmes has a remarkable talent of being able to flick from the omnipotent autobiographer, to the mood-setting narrator; and was able to shed an entirely new light, on what is often a very dark and inglorious period of English, European and South African history.
Although some of the language used, had this reader reaching for the dictionary a few times, it was written by an academic and was about an academic. Had the author chosen to use the vocabulary of a tabloid, I doubt the book would hold the same appeal, or have been able to explain, so successfully, how appearance - whether physical, or in this case written, can have such a profound effect on an audience.
If you have heard of Dr. Barry, then this book will be a good addition to your library. If you have not, then you should also enjoy it.
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By A Customer on 28 Aug. 2002
Format: Hardcover
I found this book by chance and thought it fascinating. It featured some of the places I grew up in and was an insightful, thoughtful and articulate account of a life with so much unknown. It also raises key points in the debate on gender and acceptance of men and women in our society, as well as the great debate on childbirth and women's rights for safe labour and delivery.
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By A Customer on 21 Aug. 2002
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful story of an extraordinary character. Barry's story is larger than life, but Rachel Holmes has done a brilliant piece of detective work to find out what really went on beneath Barry's starched shirts! This is a biography but written with great novelistic flair, from the cold murky streets of Edinburgh to the hot, torrid life of colonial Cape Town. A great read, and a real bodice ripper!
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Format: Paperback
What a great woman! Not only an excellent doctor but a humanitarian and all achieved under the guise of being male! I found the book easy to read but could be a bit dry in places, hence the 4*. However I learnt a lot & it makes you appreciative of the times we live in now.
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