The medical world during the 1800s was an exhilarating time of discovery and advancement for those studying and practicing the profession, and a terrifying, painful, and often fatal period for those who would seek out surgery and medical attention. For context, Dr. Mütter served as the Chair of Surgery of the Jefferson Medical from 1811 to 1859, and the infamous murder spree of Jack the Ripper occurred merely a few decades after, from 1888 to 1891. Any comic book reader (of which we have many of this site) who has experienced the Alan Moore classic From Hell (or the film of the same name) should have a good idea of the multitude of horrors that accompanied the “enlightened age” of medicine. Unlike the dark, nightmarish world Moore allowed his reader to descend into, Aptowicz focuses equally on the harsh and unbelievable conditions and methods of the age, while still giving justifiable credence to the mind-blowing breakthroughs and innovations that took place, especially those that Mütter applied his unique and patient-friendly attention to.
Whether focusing on Mütter’s education in the medical mecca of Paris, France, Mütter’s medical procedures that have survived to these days (such as the amazing “Mütter flap” which is used to construct a new nose from the skin of the forehead), or Mütter’s extensive collection of medical marvels and his mission to find a proper home for “the chief object” of his professional life before his death (now known as the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA), Aptowicz crafted a real page turner that offers a detailed and well-written examination of its fascinating subject.
Final Verdict: Dr. Mütter's Marvels is a reading selection that I cannot recommend highly enough! Both enthralling and educational, Dr. Mütter's Marvels is akin to the book in high hchool that you resisted reading only to realize years later (when you happened to pick it up again) that it was not only brilliant, but one of the best things you’ve ever read. I certainly don’t mean to imply that anyone is being “assigned” this book against their will, but if readers find themselves hesitating to pick up Aptowicz’s text due to a lack of interest in American history or an aversion to the details of surgical procedures, I urge them to push through these preconceptions, read the opening chapters of Dr. Mütter's Marvels, and discover what an excellent, entertaining, and illuminating read it truly is.
Dr. Mütter's Marvels is available for purchase on Amazon, and you can read an excerpt of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s brilliant biography hosted over at LiveScience.com.