Summary and book reviews of Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

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
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country's most famous museum of medical oddities

Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time.

Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum.

Award-winning writer Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter's efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation, despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mütter's "overly" modern medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter's Marvels interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the "P. T. Barnum of the surgery room."

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Kindness and empathy are available in good measure in the world. So is intellect. But Mütter was a surgeon who had all these qualities in spades. Even better, as this biography shows, he had the integrity to stand up to creaky institutions and do what was right for his patients. Dr. Mütter's Marvels should serve to shine some well-deserved light on one of medicine's most important and revolutionary practitioners.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (794 words).

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Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

Aptowicz rescues Mütter the man from undeserved obscurity, recreating his short life and hard times with wit, energy and gusto.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Aptowicz shows Mütter, beloved by his students, evolving from a mischievous, impatient young doctor to an increasingly spiritual man beset by premature illness, and her writing is as full of life as her subject.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Mütter's healing work inspired former students, from the celebrated Civil War surgeon Jonathan Letterman to the pharmaceutical manufacturer E.R. Squibb. His life story will move many readers

Library Journal

Starred Review. Aptowicz has penned a fast-moving and popular history of the early to mid-­19th-century American and Parisian medical worlds, making the most of works by and about Mütter's contemporaries. The book connects the dots among the doctor's youthful dandyism, his attractiveness, his kindness toward his patients, and his fascination with what we would today call reconstructive plastic surgery, of which he was a pioneer.

Author Blurb Wendy Moore, author of The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery
An extraordinary, moving and humbling story about a remarkable and compassionate surgeon who changed the face of medicine forever.

Author Blurb Mary Cappello, author of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor who Extracted Them
Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz...has given us a stirring account of the exigencies of medical practice in nineteenth century Philadelphia; the consequential controversies; the not-so-petty rivalries; the ghastly bravura of medically sanctioned spectacles; and, the outcomes for patients, then and now, of a profession divided and at odds.

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Beyond the Book

The Mütter Museum

Dr. MutterThe author of Dr. Mütter's Marvels, Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, has said that the inspiration for her book came from a school field trip taken to Philadelphia's Mütter Museum. The museum got its start when the surgeon bequeathed a collection of interesting anatomical specimens to the College of Physicians with a stipulation that "by accepting his donation of 1,700 objects and $30,000, the College must hire a curator, maintain and expand the collection, fund annual lectures, and erect a fireproof building to house the collection." That fireproof building housing the original collection was completed in 1863 but years later, the museum's collections moved to its current location at 19 South 22nd Street, and has ...

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