I would imagine it is difficult to write a book on any topic you’re an expert in; making something you’re so well versed in accessible to the average reader while having something new to say seems like a difficult needle to thread. Van de Laar rises to the challenge; Under the Knife skillfully discusses famous surgical cases that lead to innovations in the field along with sidebars about health – surgical instruments, describing positions medically – to get the layman up to speed.
However, the book doesn’t quite live up to its subtitle. While the operations that Van de Laar describes are indeed remarkable, it’s hard to think of this book as a history of surgery. I’ll admit my bias being in ophthalmology, but without any mention of cataracts, one of the first surgical procedures developed, I know that significant surgical history is missed. Which means that this is a collection of interesting surgical cases, which is a good enough foundation for a book, but not really what was promised.
That said, if you’re intrigued by said surgical cases – ranging from a corset allowing a queen to live longer than her ailment dictated by acting as a tourniquet, or an astronaut undergoing unnecessary surgery to regain his balance – this book is really interesting and accessible. It just isn’t comprehensive.