Books / Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon

Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon

Publisher: Random House Uk
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Book Summary of Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon

'When I was four or five years old my mother took me to see a dead man'. This riveting memory from the author's own life is the start of Digging Up the Dead, a terrific historical narrative and an evocation of a whole world, where surgeons and body-snatchers colluded and conspired because this was the only way the surgeons could get anatomical experience. It tells the story of Astley Cooper 1768-1841, a tearaway young man from Norfolk who became a fiery radical (he took his pregnant wife to Paris during the Revolution) and a brilliantly successful surgeon. He was a student of the famous John Hunter, and the teacher of the poet John Keats, who was a medical student at Guy's; he became a fellow of the Royal Society and was the first person to describe the function of the middle ear, with its drum and bones. He became surgeon to three successive British Kings, as well as Princes and Prime Ministers. When Cooper died it was said that he had 'earned more than any surgeon or lawyer that ever lived', and his funeral drew huge crowds. The village where he had spent his last years was hung with black and a statue of him was placed in St Paul's. But Cooper's real passion was dissection. He began with student raids on graveyards (and on neighbours' cats and dogs) and ended up running a country-wide network of informers and body snatchers, later boasting to a House of Commons enquiry that there was no man or woman in Britain whose body he could not obtain after their death.

Druin Burch became fascinated by Cooper when he was working as a busy Accident & Emergency doctor, and he sets the past against his own reactions to autopsies and operations, hospitals and poetry. Beautifully written, brilliant and original, with a touch of the gothic, Digging Up the Dead suggests that biography too is a form of dissection, anatomizing and 'autopsy', which means 'to see for oneself'.



About the Author

Druin Burch, 34, studied Human Sciences at Oxford. After research in human and chimpanzee genetics, he studied medicine and has worked in hospitals across south east England. He teaches human evolution, physiology and ecology at Oxford, and writes for medical journals, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. This is his first book. He lives in the Cotswolds.

Details of Book: Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon (BSID:3414)

Book Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon
Author Druin Burch
ISBN 0701179856
ISBN-13 9780701179854, 978-0701179854
Binding Hardcover
Publisher Random House Uk
Publishing Date 20070301
Number of Pages 276
Language English
Dimensions 9.2 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
Weight 544 grams

Reviews of Digging Up the Dead: The Life and Times of Astley Cooper, an Extraordinary Surgeon (0 Reviews) Have you Read this Book Write a Review

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Andrew February 20, 2012 review from Goodreads

A precise, economical, life-affirming bio of the surgeon and dissector par excellence Astley Cooper, and a vivid tour of the influence of the scientific method on the field of medicine in enlightenment Britain. The examples of 18th century surgery are fascinating for drawing a comparison with tod...

E. January 15, 2012 review from Goodreads

I love biography and science, but avoid horror at all costs. Despite this book occasionally drifting into the latter - descriptions of operations without anaesthetic, bodysnatching, and the uses to which corpses were once put - the grip of the story carried me along. A vivid life, vividly told, i...

Andreia May 04, 2009 review from Goodreads

It is always inspiring to read about people who are driven by the love of their work. Cooper was driven by his insatiable curiosity and this book chronicles how his work shaped his life. Burch weaves some of his own experiences in medical school throughout the book and it only adds to the richnes...

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