Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations

St. Martin's. Oct. 2018. 368p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250200105. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250200099. MED
Readers looking for a history of surgery or in-depth descriptions of 28 operations in Dutch laparoscopic surgeon van de Laar's first book will be disappointed. This is a compilation of articles published by the author in the surgical journal Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Heelkunde. The result is an inconsistent and disjointed narrative. The operations mentioned are more notable for the patient than for the procedure: the intubation of John F. Kennedy after he was shot, the abdominal surgery on Pope John Paul II, and Louis XIV's fistula. There are the nonsurgical cases of Bob Marley and baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who both refused to have their toes amputated, and the chapter "Obesity," which focuses on the gluttonous habits of popes and only fits the book's theme owing to an added description of bariatric surgery. The author is at his best exploring the evolution of a device or procedure such as laparoscopy and electrocoagulation. The stories have a gossipy tone and plenty of trivia.
VERDICT For readers interested in medical oddities and strange stories told in a conversational manner, this is a solid choice. Those searching for a history of surgery will want to look elsewhere.

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