Originally posted on 28 Dec 2022

1 minute read

In this time when even toddlers are aware of the dangers of germs, it’s easy to forget that germ theory* is still a relatively new thing in the world of medicine. Prior to the discovery of microbes, hospitals were stomach-turning dens of filth where only the poorest or most hopeless cases were sent and where they usually died, most often from infections contracted during or after their initial treatment.

Enter Joseph Lister, the British surgeon who made it his life’s work to discover why those infections happened, how to prevent them, and therefore how to save thousands of people every year in his hospital alone.

Dr. Fitzharris brings us the story of this remarkable scientist and all of the challenges he faced on his way to his goal. It’s a fascinating read, but also a gruesome one. The author doesn’t pull any punches when describing the realities of living and dying in Victorian England. This is really effective at pulling the reader out of their relatively clean and safe modern perspective to understand just how critical a thing Lister undertook.

If you enjoy well-researched books about the history of science, don’t pass this one by. Just maybe don’t read it after eating.

* Can we all pause for a moment and shake our heads at the fact that this is still officially known as a theory?