Digging up the Dead
This is a life of Sir Astley Cooper, whose accomplishments straddled the 18th and 19th centuries. He was Britain’s foremost surgeon of his day and this biography covers his rise to eminence. But it is more than just a standard life. The writer is a medical doctor, and the book is also a fascinating study about the level of medical knowledge (or, rather, ignorance would be a better description) and the treatment of those unfortunate enough to require surgery. Cooper mostly developed his expertise by either dissecting illegally harvested corpses or experimenting through vivisection techniques. These, together with the toe-curling descriptions of the surgery performed on trussed-up and terror-struck un-anaesthetised subjects can be challenging reading! Like many prominent people, Cooper was a mass of contradictions, but there is no doubt he should be admired for his tenacity in advancing the boundaries of medical awareness. This is also a most useful source for any writer wanting to understand and include medical subjects in historical fiction.