Excerpt from Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dr. Mütter's Marvels

A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz X
Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 384 pages

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Print Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

MONSTERS

Even in the middle of the ocean, Mütter could not get her out of his mind. He excused himself early from dinner, stopped well-meaning conversationalists mid-sentence, and rushed down to his sleeping quarters just to hold her face in his hands.

To an American like him, she appeared unquestionably French: high cheekbones, full upturned lips, glittering deep-set eyes. For an older woman, she was impressively well preserved, her temples kissed with only the slightest crush of wrinkles. When she was young, Mütter imagined, she must have been very beautiful, though perhaps girlishly sensitive about the long thin hook of her nose, or the pale mole resting on her lower left cheek. But that would have been decades ago.

Now well past her childbearing years, the woman answered only to "Madame Dimanche"—the Widow Sunday—and all anyone saw when they looked at her was the thick brown horn that sprouted from her pale forehead, continuing down the entire length of her face and stopping bluntly just below her pointy, perfect French chin.

• • •

The young Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter had arrived in Paris less than a year earlier, in the fall of 1831. Even for Mutter, who had always relied heavily on his ability to charm a situation to his favor, it had not been an easy trip to arrange.

He was just twenty years old when he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's storied medical college. To an outsider, he may not have seemed that different from the other students in his class: fresh-faced, eager, hardworking. But he knew he was different—in some ways that were deliberate and in other ways that were utterly out of his control.

Perhaps the most obvious of these was Mutter's appearance. He was, as anyone could plainly see, extraordinarily handsome. Having studied his parents' portraits as a child—one of the few things of theirs he still possessed—he knew that he inherited his good looks. He had his father's strong nose, impishly arched eyebrows, and rare bright blue eyes. He favored his mother's bright complexion, her round lips, and sweet, open oval face. His chin, like hers, jutted out playfully.

Mutter made sure to keep his thick brown hair cut to a fashionable length, brushed back and swept off his cleanly shaven, charismatic face. His clothing was always clean, current, and fastidiously tailored. From a young age, he understood how important looks were, how vital appearance was to acceptance, especially among certain circles of society. He worked hard to create an aura of ease around him. No one needed to know how much he had struggled, or how much he struggled still. No, rather he made it a habit to stand straight, to make his smile easy and his laugh warm. He was, as a contemporary once described him, the absolute pink of neatness.

The truth was that, financially, he had always been forced to walk a tightrope. Both his parents had died when he was very young. The money they left him was modest, and thanks to complicated legal issues, his access to it was severely limited. Over the years, he grew practiced in the art of finessing opportunities so that he could live something approximate to the life he desired. At boarding school, he was known to charge his clothing bills to the institution and then earn scholarships to pay off the resulting debts. When he wanted to travel, he secured just enough money to get him to his destination and then relied on his wits to get him back home.

And now that Mutter had achieved his longtime goal of graduating from one of the country's best medical schools, he focused on his next goal: Paris.

Paris was the epicenter of medical achievement: the medical mecca. Hundreds of American doctors swarmed to the city every year, knowing that in order to be great, to be truly great, you must study medicine in Paris. And that had always been Mutter's plan: to be great. More than that: to be the greatest.

Excerpted from Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. Copyright © 2014 by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. Excerpted by permission of Gotham Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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