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Publisher's Summary

From a renowned surgeon and historian with five decades of experience comes a remarkable history of surgery’s development - spanning the Stone Age to the present day - blending meticulous medical studies with lively and skillful storytelling.

There are not many events in life that can be as simultaneously life-frightening and life-saving as a surgical operation. Yet, in America, tens of millions of major surgical procedures are performed annually, but few of us pause to consider the magnitude of these figures because we have such inherent confidence in surgeons. And, despite passionate debates about healthcare and the endless fascination with surgical procedures, most of us have no idea how surgeons came to be because the story of surgery has never been fully told. Now, Empire of the Scalpel elegantly reveals the fascinating history of surgery’s evolution from its earliest roots in Europe through its rise to scientific and social dominance in the United States.

From the 16th-century saga of Andreas Vesalius and his crusade to accurately describe human anatomy while appeasing the conservative clergy who clamored for his burning at the stake, to the hard-to-believe story of late-19th-century surgeons’ apathy to Joseph Lister’s innovation of antisepsis and how this indifference led to thousands of unnecessary surgical deaths, Empire of the Scalpel is both a global history and a uniquely American tale. You’ll discover how in the 20th century the US achieved surgical world supremacy heralded by the Nobel Prize-winning, seemingly impossible feat of transplanting a kidney and how the heart-lung machine was developed, along with much more.

Today, the list of possible operations is almost infinite - from knee and hip replacement to heart bypass and transplants to fat reduction and rhinoplasty - and Rutkow draws on his five-decade career to show us how we got here. Authoritative, captivating, and comprehensive, Empire of the Scalpel portrays the evolution of surgery in all its dramatic and life-enhancing complexity and shows that its history is truly one awe-inspiring triumph after another.

©2022 Ira Rutkow. All rights reserved. Excerpt from "Negro Hero" by Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions. (P)2022 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

What listeners say about Empire of the Scalpel

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really interesting history

I love a good story, and the story of surgery across time is fascinating. the information is solid, and the reader is great. Looking forward to learning more about robotic surgery soon

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An old Operating Room nurse learns.

I absolutely enjoyed this book. I first learned about it on NPR. This gave me the impetus to find it on Audible. I immediately downloaded it. The history of surgery was fascinating. I have told my surgeon friends about it. I’m sure even they will learn something. Even non medical people will enjoy this book. I am listening to it the second time!

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The casual reader will gobble this up but....

There is no doubt that the lay public will buy this and revel in many of the stories. that said clinical readers will find themselves split between, "Gee I didn't know that! and that is clearly factually wrong!" in places

Moreover they will find the term " knife bearer" and "knife wielder" used dozens if not hundreds of times throughout the book annoying and overly dramatic not to mention the knife is used often less that 30sec in a case.

The performance is fair at best there are innumerable mispronunciations and a more talented reader would have had more life to the stories.

Finally, the book is not improved with the periodic self justification of his own personal story in the book. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an open hernia surgeon for one's entire career, however it does not give one the gravitas of a Francis Moore to make general pronouncements of motivation when one was actually sitting on the sidelines during some of the most exciting times in surgical innovation.

I do appreciate some of the great stories and I think surgeons should read the book since their patients clearly will.

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moderately good

i've been a practicing surgeon for 42 years. There's some interesting history in the book, but the last few chapters leave out too much, particularly about laparoscopic surgery and the way general surgeons were taught to remove gallbladders by gynecologists by operating on pigs. overall OK, but lost its appeal to me during the last few hours.