Book Reviews



The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery

by Wendy Moore 

Review by Richard Sheppard


Fascinating tale of John Hunter, an 18th century Englishman who was obsessed with human anatomy to the extreme of grave-robbing and dissecting thousands of corpses. No nearby freshly deceased was safe from the clutches of his nocturnal grave-robbing minions. He may have single-handedly promoted the wide-scale use of metal caskets.

Considered an eccentric and headstrong by his contemporaries, Hunter, despite his unsavory need for freshly-robbed bodies, maintained a purely scientific and medical approach to his "knife" work. Moreover, Hunter's curiosity included non-human physiology and comparative anatomy, and the book argues somewhat convincingly that Hunter was on the cusp of revealing evolutionary science before Charles Darwin.

Since he also taught hundreds of students, his methods and advances were spread far and wide. No reader will doubt that modern medical and surgical science were advanced decades due to Hunter's incredible curiosity and diligence. One can argue his grave-robbing practices - viewed much more unacceptably at the time - were too high a price to pay, but the resulting advance in knowledge assures Hunter's place in medical history.