Add me to the ranks of Cannonballers who
enthusiastically recommend this book.
And the only reason it’s not fully enthusiastic is that Dr. Mütter’s Marvels wasn’t quite what I thought it would be.This is not the fault of the author, or the subject. Just my own misapprehension.
Above all, this is a fascinating read about the time period during which surgeons, in particular, went from live, struggling patients and a general lack of cleanliness to the use of ether (and chloroform, though less that) and an understanding that dirt could kill.
Dr. Mütter’s story is told…not economically, precisely, and definitely not with a laser focus, but in such a way that I got halfway through the book before I realized I had misunderstood what the book was about. I like cabinets of wonder, cabinets of curiosities and, despite having read the other reviews, I somehow thought this would be more about the Museum than the Man. I was not disappointed, however, because the subject himself and his contemporaries were interesting to read about. Aptowicz writes in a clear style that is a pleasure to read. I am not surprised to discover she is also a poet, because her language has that sort of lyricism; the sense that each word is chosen and weighed much as Mütter may have chosen and weighed his words.
Another thing I was struck by, consistently, was Mütter’s insistence on treating ill and disfigured persons as persons first, rather than just their cases or disfigurements. This trait strikes me as a rare one in the modern world, though I can be (and probably am) mistaken.
So yes — I do definitely recommend this book to those interested in the history of medicine, of people in the antebellum north, of Philadelphia (shh, that always said Philly) and her storied history with medical education (and, in an instance of synchronicity, I have to note that the description of the firefighters brawling with each other instead of fighting the fire had been mentioned on an episode of the Backstory podcast just before I read about it in this book), or to a certain extent of people in general.
Just know that it’s about Dr. Mütter himself, and not the museum that bears his name.