The Knife Man

Jonathan Kaplan reviews The Knife Man: the extraordinary life and times of John Hunter, father of modern surgery by Wendy Moore, in The New Statesman:

HunterDoctors tend to scorn hospital dramas on television, thinking that it is hard to suspend disbelief as violin prodigies with brain tumours, pregnant fashion models and epileptic airline pilots are rushed to surgery amid much flourishing of the defibrillator paddles. The opening chapters of The Knife Man, Wendy Moore’s biography of the pioneering surgeon John Hunter, seem to offer the same theatrical overload. As we move through an 18th-century London that festers with grave-robbers, gangrene, scrofula, open sewers, syphilis and stolen corpses, we meet the blunt-mannered, tawny-haired Hunter “laying out his scheme for a daring and novel operation”.

To abandon the book at this stage, however, would be to miss out on the extraordinary breadth of its research and its superb evocation of Hunter’s genius. The writing finds its pace when Hunter goes off to be a surgeon with the British army during the Seven Years War. Moore restrains her imagination and allows Hunter to speak in his own robust voice.

More here.