Bingo 17 (Science!)
The Butchering Art is part biography and part history of medicine, but mostly medicine. Do not read this is you are squeamish about some fairly graphic descriptions of surgery before things like antiseptics and anesthesia.
The focus of the book is one the career of a Quaker named Joseph Lister in Victorian England; if his last name sounds vaguely familiar it should, and I’m surprised it doesn’t get more attention or pointed out sooner than it actually does. I’m also slightly ashamed of how long it took me to start wondering about that. In addition to following the career drama and general life of Dr. Lister, there is a lot of emphasis on his theories and experiments. Basically he came up with the idea that germs were the reason so many people would die in hospitals and after surgeries in the 1800s, which was really slow to be accepted in the medical community, and he also came up with a way to boost patient survival odds, namely through the use of antiseptics. How he figures these things out and how the ideas eventually spread and become the standards they are today is the bulk of the book.
In spite of the high degree of fact and history, this is actually a pretty readable book. At the same time, it’s also pretty well researched; the notes after the main part of the book are pretty extensive, and the author is a historian of science. This isn’t quite as engaging as it could have been in how it’s written since it’s not quite a true story kind of thing, but it’s definitely not the dull recitation of fact and timeline and jargon that it could have been either.
Lister himself seems to have been total geek who would much rather hang out in his lab than play politics for career advancement purposes, yet he does manage to score some pretty important jobs including eventually treating Queen Victoria, and he manages to make friends with Louis Pasteur. This inclusion of some of the “office politics” of the medical communities at the time helps keep suspense and interest up, especially for someone like me who hasn’t taken a chemistry or biology class in decades.