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The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy

The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy

4.5 8
by Bill B. Hayes

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"Hayes’s history of the illustrated medical text “Gray’s Anatomy” coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of its first publication. Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray,


"Hayes’s history of the illustrated medical text “Gray’s Anatomy” coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of its first publication. Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray, the brilliant scholar and surgeon who wrote the text, another anatomist was crucial to the book’s popularity: Henry Vandyke Carter, who provided its painstaking drawings. Hayes moves nimbly between the dour streets of Victorian London, where Gray and Carter trained at St. George’s Hospital, and the sunnier classrooms of a West Coast university filled with athletic physical therapists in training, where he enrolls in anatomy classes and discovers that “when done well, dissection is very pleasing aesthetically.” - The New Yorker

"All laud and honor to Hayes....In perusing the body's 650 muscles and 206 bones, he has made the case that we are, as the psalmist wrote, "fearfully and wonderfully made" and that dissection has an aesthetic all its own. The act of carving open a body becomes, in this context, a perverse act of love, a desecration that consecrates "the extraordinary, the inner architecture of the human form." - The Washington Post

"How do you write a book about someone about whom next to nothing is known? For most writers, the answer would be move on to the next subject. But Bill Hayes has an unusual set of skills. The author of previous books on insomnia and blood, he is part science writer, part memoirist, part culture explainer. “The Anatomist,” his appealing new book about the man behind Gray’s Anatomy, combines his search for the remaining traces of Henry Gray with a memoir of his own experience as a dissection student and a scalpel’s-eye tour of the body." - The New York Times

"Some of [Hayes's] most memorable writing describes the dissection classes he attended in San Francisco. We are treated to a selection of fascinating anatomical snippets about, for example, how to trace evidence of the sealed hole in the fetal heart through which the mother's blood enters; or how to find the kidney in a cadaver; or that blood flowing out of the heart is first used to feed the heart itself; or, best of all, a structural analysis of how the Queen manages to deliver such a uniquely restrained wave." - Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science

The classic medical text known as Gray’s Anatomy is one of the most famous books ever written. Now, on the 150th anniversary of its publication, acclaimed science writer and master of narrative nonfiction Bill Hayes has written the fascinating, never-before-told true story of how this seminal volume came to be. A blend of history, science, culture, and Hayes’s own personal experiences, The Anatomist is this author’s most accomplished and affecting work to date.

With passion and wit, Hayes explores the significance of Gray’s Anatomy and explains why it came to symbolize a turning point in medical history. But he does much, much more. Uncovering a treasure trove of forgotten letters and diaries, he illuminates the astonishing relationship between the fiercely gifted young anatomist Henry Gray and his younger collaborator H. V. Carter, whose exquisite anatomical illustrations are masterpieces of art and close observation. Tracing the triumphs and tragedies of these two extraordinary men, Hayes brings an equally extraordinary era–the mid-1800s–unforgettably to life.

But the journey Hayes takes us on is not only outward but inward–through the blood and tissue and organs of the human body–for The Anatomist chronicles Hayes’s year as a student of classical gross anatomy, performing with his own hands the dissections and examinations detailed by Henry Gray 150 years ago. As Hayes’s acquaintance with death deepens, he finds his understanding and appreciation of life deepening in unexpected and profoundly moving ways.

The Anatomist is more than just the story of a book. It is the story of the human body, a story whose beginning and end we all know and share but that, like all great stories, is infinitely rich in between.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Anatomist

“In his cunningly structured, beautifully written anatomy of Gray’s Anatomy, Bill Hayes dissects the body’s secrets, the lives of two great nineteenth-century explorers of those secrets–and some of his own obsession as well. A lovely book.”
–Andrea Barett, author of Ship Fever

“Bill Hayes has written a thrilling book that is simultaneously an autobiography, a biography of Henry Gray, a scientific essay on our human anatomy, and a heart-breaking elegy. I do not know another book like it.”
–Richard Rodriguez, author of Hunger of Memory

“The Anatomist is many things: a study of the body after life has left it, a chronicle of scientists obsessed with the subject, and, in a heartbreakingly personal way, a memoir. It is also a reflection about how little was known about disease not that long ago. Finally, it is a biography of an anxious, neurotic, enormously sympathetic young anatomist from another time who changed medicine. This is a wonderful book.”
–Robert M. Sapolsky, author of A Primate’s Memoir

“Hayes pays eloquent tribute to two masterpieces: the human body and the book detailing it. . . . [He balances] biographical chapters with his own experience in the anatomy classroom, dissecting cadavers and marveling at each new discovery with prose both lucid and arrestingly beautiful.”
–Publishers Weekly

Louis Bayard
To enter into the proper spirit, Hayes spent a year taking gross anatomy classes at the University of California-San Francisco, and his descriptions of the experience evoke the legacy of Gray and Carter more forcefully than any dusty diary could.
—The Washington Post
D. T. Max
It's [his] gentle, inquiring approach that finally binds Hayes's somewhat disjointed Anatomy together. I wanted to hear a bit about, say, the "resurrection men" whose job it was to supply doctors up until Gray's era with fresh corpses often stolen from graveyards. But that is not Hayes's style. When we turn green, he is there to remind us to calm down. Traditionally, anatomy professors have left their mortal remains to the lab. One suspects that when his time comes, Hayes will join their ranks and this engaging book will not be his only tribute to the profession.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Science writer Hayes (Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood, 2005, etc.) combines a you-are-there account with interesting biographical details about the men who put the human body on the map. The map is Gray's Anatomy, the reference work, originally titled Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical, used by generations of medical students since its first edition was published in 1858. Curious to know more about the brilliant teacher who had the revolutionary idea of writing an anatomy text to assist surgeons, the author learned that there wasn't much to tell: Henry Gray died young and horribly of smallpox. The meticulous illustrator of Gray's text, however, had a long, extraordinary life, and Hayes found a trove of diaries and letters to flesh it out. Henry Vandyke Carter, a few years younger than Gray, was a diffident figure, confident in his drawing skills but given to dark moods, self-blame and anxieties about religious faith. Nevertheless, the two Henrys worked well together and produced to glowing acclaim a revolutionary volume. Gray did well financially, but many of Carter's duties were unpaid. He finally moved to Bombay, where he conducted research, taught anatomy and practiced medicine. His exemplary career was blighted by a scandalous love affair with a woman who bore him a child. Hayes unfolds a Hollywood-like plot, complete with a (sort-of) happy ending. Interspersed with this story, the author relates his personal experiences in gross-anatomy classes, conveying a sense of wonder at the beauty and complexity of the human body and the evolutionary compromises that have shaped it. No dull required course here-a vivid tale populated with flesh-and-blood characters, from thetwo Henrys to the cadavers themselves. Agent: Wendy Weil/Wendy Weil Agency

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.89(w) x 8.29(h) x 0.87(d)

Meet the Author

Bill Hayes is the author of the national bestseller Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir and Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood. His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine and Details, among other publications, and at Salon.com. He has also been featured on many NPR programs as well as the Discovery Health Channel. He lives in San Francisco. Visit the author’s website at www.bill-hayes.com.

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Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fun. It isn't really about Gray, but mostly about a combination of the experience of the author (Bill Hayes) while studying anatomy at UCSF and the life of H.V. Carter, the often-overlooked illustrator of Gray's Anatomy (the binding on the book originally read: Gray Anatomy Carter) Recommended for semi-light semi-science reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought The Anatomist was very enjoyable. It doesn't have very much information about Gray in it, but a lot of information about the illustrator of Gray's Anatomy named Henry Carter. Most of the book is Hayes explaining what information he got out of Carter's journal. But what made the book interesting is how he was able to participate in some lab classes with medical students. They would operate on real bodies from people who donated them for learning. I liked learning the history of Anatomy and what anatomists believed they could get information from at the time and why they couldn't just examine a human body. I also found it fascinating that there are places in my body with names that I will probably never be able to pronounce. My first instinct was that I was going to read a book about a man who made extraordinary discoveries about the human body and how it operates but it turns out that it was only about a man with extraordinary talent for Anatomy and he and his best friend was able too write a book with very liable information. Gray's Anatomy became one of the most popular books for students and the logic in it is still undeniable today.
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jhmJM More than 1 year ago
An interesting story by a talented writer. It doesn't get any better than that.
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