02 September 2018

Review of Under the Knife

Under the Knife by Arnold Van De Laar book cover

Surgeon Arnold Van de Laar uses his own experience and expertise to tell this engrossing history of surgery through 28 famous operations - from Louis XIV to JFK, and from Einstein to Houdini.
From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder to Bob Marley's deadly toe, Under the Knife offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights into medicine and history via the operating theater.
What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery?
From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today's sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history and a modern anatomy class for us all.
Cats Luv Coffee Book Review


You had me at "cut a stone out of his own bladder".  Can you imagine? 

I'm the type of person that, if something is mentioned in passing, that I medically have no knowledge of, I will go straight to Google to learn more. I'm also a notorious Web-MD'er, but let's not talk about that. 😸 I love medical knowledge. My mom was a nurse and I married a paramedic so talking about various and sundry medical issues is commonplace for me. I even took various Anatomy and Physiology and Medical Terminology classes in college as electives! While I find the medical field fascinating, I chose not to go into a career in it, simply because I don't think I have the patient interaction skills necessary ( i.e. I have RBF). That doesn't stop me from finding it fascinating and always wanting to learn. 

Under the Knife is filled to the brim with medical knowledge. Each chapter presents a medical condition and gives historical examples. It then supplies you with a medical aside in which it very simply sets out and defines the condition with how it may be treated today.

For example, in the chapter Peritonitis, the author explains the fate of Harry Houdini. Houdini claimed that his abdominal muscles could withstand any blow. On one fateful evening, he took a few of these blows, proving his superhuman ability. The following day, but with no time to see a doctor, because the show must go on, he started feeling under the weather.  He was not operated on until three days after the infamous blows to the stomach. During surgery, his abdomen was found to be filled with pus. He was diagnosed with peritonitis, from a ruptured appendix, which due to the lack of antibiotics at the time, eventually caused his death. The author then goes on to define some medical terms and give an explanation of what happens in appendicitis and the resulting peritonitis, including symptoms and diagnosis. He also describes the classic operation for removing the appendix and the history of developing both the knowledge and the surgery that we use today. 

I loved this book. I found it fascinating to read about the history of commonplace medical maladies and the resulting treatment that in some cases, we still use today. I was probably very annoying to those around me while reading because I'd have to stop and share some tidbit of information, whether they wanted it or not! Luckily, those around me tend to have the same macabre curiosity as I do. While I do have a basic medical knowledge, maybe more so than the average person, the author sets out the information in a way that makes it easy to comprehend and not overwhelming in the least. The only drawback that I found is the author doesn't present his information in a logical, linear fashion. I frequently found myself jumping ahead or paging backward to find the corresponding information I wanted before then continuing with the story. 

Whether you are in the medical field, or simply are curious about the history of surgery, this is an insightful read. 



Get your copy here:

4 Paws Up!

4 paws up

About the Author

ARNOLD VAN DE LAAR is a surgeon in the Slotervaart Hospital in Amsterdam, specializing in laparoscopic surgery. Born in the Dutch town of 's-Hertogenbosch, van de Laar studied medicine at the Belgian University of Leuven before taking his first job as general surgeon on the Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten. He now lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two children where, a true Dutchman, he cycles to work every day. Under the Knife is his first book.