Sent To Me By John Murray In Exchange For An Honest Review
11.01.2018 / John Murray / Non Fiction / Hardback / 368pp / 978-1473633650
Target Audience: Non-fiction readers with an interest in medicine/surgery and history. Under The Knife is pretty graphically detailed so keep that in mind when picking it up.
About Under The Knife
How did a decision made in the operating theatre spark hundreds of conspiracy theories about JFK?
How did a backstage joke prove fatal to world-famous escape artist Harry Houdini?
How did Queen Victoria change the course of surgical history?
Through dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today’s sterile, high-tech operating theatres, surgeon Arnold van de Laar uses his experience and expertise to tell an incisive history of the past, present and future of surgery.
Arnold van de Laar’s Under The Knife is a fascinating and vivid account of the history of surgery. Broken down into 28 historical narratives surrounding key moments and individuals, such as presidents, popes, monarchs, innovators, pioneers, geniuses, peasants and killers, that advanced humanity’s understanding of the body and our approach to surgery in both a critical and meaningful way. I never knew that JFK died of asphyxiation or that Bob Marley refused skin cancer treatment and Under The Knife has copious amounts those revealing moments that have the potential to inform as well as amaze.
VDL does a superb job leading us through the surgical ages and sharing where we went wrong, the people who changed the game and the obvious benefits that we experience today. There is so much about surgery that I wasn’t aware of and it was a great experience to learn plenty from VDL. I didn’t consider myself squeamish until I read this book and I have been present at both of my children’s births. I have to say that this book is cringe inducing, nauseating at times and, with van de Laar being a surgeon himself, Under The Knife spares no details on the human anatomy and what it goes through in our lives. There was many a ‘bluuurgh’, ‘huuuumph’ and ‘errrrr’ during my time with Under The Knife. That said, if you can cope with all the savagery that came with early surgery efforts then you will be rewarded with a non-fiction treat that I couldn’t get enough of.
Van de Laar is a professional but he is also an avid story-teller. The beginning chapters were outstanding and they roped me in with historical facts and insights into surgical procedures that adapted, revolutionised and benefited medicine for the better. I do feel that Van de Laar stumbled on his ratios in the middle chapters, favouring too much narrative or vice versa too much descriptive detail which did drag out certain sections slightly further than necessary but that is my own personal preference. I especially liked the small inserts that he included within the text that shine a light on small areas of surgery and medicine (such as hernias and stitches etc) that gave me a mental breather before jumping back in. VDL also takes the time to look at where we are headed in surgery (via the medium of fictional surgeons which I though was splendid). Van de Laar’s writing is approachable with variety in the depth of detail that will please a wide spectrum of readers from beginners to professionals. He writes with experience, enthusiasm and a genuine intrigue that is infectious (excuse the pun) as well as informative.
Overall Under The Knife is a well-rounded, stomach turning but ultimately fascinating non-fiction read that will stick in the minds of readers for years to come. I firmly believe that Under The Knife is one of those books you didn’t know you needed to read until you have it in your hands and the mesmerising begins and you cannot put it down until the very end.
About Arnold Van De Laar
Arnold van de Laar is a surgeon in the Slotervaart Hospital in Amsterdam, specialising in laparoscopic surgery. Born in 1969 in the Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, van de Laar became fascinated by how the human body works in school biology lessons and went on to study medicine at the Belgian University of Leuven. Having travelled the world – the Himalayas, Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir, and extensively in Africa – van de Laar took his first job as general surgeon on the Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten. He started writing pieces on surgical history in the Dutch medical journal Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Heelkunde in 2009. He now lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two children where, a true Dutchman, he cycles to work every day. This is his first book.