Synopses & Reviews
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."
"Aptowicz rescues Mütter the man from undeserved obscurity, recreating his short life and hard times with wit, energy and gusto."
Wall Street Journal
"An extraordinary, moving and humbling story about a remarkable and compassionate surgeon who changed the face of medicine forever. Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz immerses us in the strange world of Dr. Thomas Mütter and unfolds the tale of his pioneering approach to surgery with verve, wit and sensitivity. We are all of us the richer for Dr. Mütter's visionary work and the legacy he left us in the shape of one of the world's most beguiling museums."
Wendy Moore, author of The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery
"Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz has not just written a highly readable and affecting biography of the singularly debonair doctor, the ameliorator of deformities of skin and bone, and the beloved teacher behind Philadelphia's world-renowned Mütter Museum. She 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. An indispensable companion to Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, Dr. Mütter's Marvels will enable visitors to encounter the collections in an entirely new and important way."
Mary Cappello, author of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor who Extracted Them
About the Author
Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz is an award-winning writer of Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam and popular touring poet and spoken word performer. She lives in Austin, Texas.