Imagine, for a moment what it would be like to undergo an operation without anesthesia. Then imagine how you would feel if you knew that your surgeon refused to sterilize his tools or wash his hands. Frightening thought, isn't it? But, during the middle of the nineteenth century, that was exactly how doctors practiced medicine. The city of Philadelphia was the place to come if you wanted to be a first class physician in the United States. Into this world stepped Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter. This brilliant, outspoken doctor would go on to become a medical innovator, pioneering things such as the use of anesthesia and surgical tools sterilization. His lectures at the Jefferson Medical College would inspire students such as Edward Robinson Squibb (founder of Bristol-Myers-Squibb), Dr. Francis West Lewis (founder of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia), and many others. Mütter's immense collection of medical oddities would eventually become the back bone of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. This amazing physician's life is now told in the book, Dr. Mütter's Marvels, by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.
After attending one of Aptowicz's book signing, I was fascinated by some of what she said about Mütter, and mediciine during that time period in general. So, I decided to plunge right in to Dr. Mütter's Marvels. Let me just say up front that the book did not disappoint.
Dr. Mütter's Marvels almost reads like fiction, with deep description, and fascinating dialog taken straight from journals and papers of the era. Aptowicz takes the reader back to Mütter's earliest childhood days, providing a vivid image of the circumstances that influenced the physician's decision to pursue medicine. From his early days in France, to his arrival in Philadelphia, we follow the good doctor on his journey to establish himself as a man of medicine. Aptowicz does a wonderful job of drawing the reader into the past, and giving a glimpse into the Mütter's life as he rises to prominence at Jefferson Medical College.
One of the things that I loved about this book was that it just wasn't about Mütter. Aptowicz brings a whole host of prominent characters to life from the world around Mütter, giving the reader insight into the jealousy and professional rivalry that existed in the medical world of the mid-nineteenth century. She also does a phenomenal job of describing the overall state of medicine at the time, as well as the innovations that came from that era.
Overall, it was an extremely interesting read, and is one of the best biographies I've ever read. Dr. Mütter's Marvels is a finely crafted book, insightfully researched, and thoroughly enjoyable. If I had only one complaint about the book, I think it would be that the tagline for the title is, "A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine". I didn't really feel like there was what I would call "Intrigue". Otherwise, reading this book was time well spent. And, it has ignited a desire to visit the Mütter Museum to see these oddities for myself.
Dr. Mütter's Marvels is one that I would highly recommend.