Description: Harold Ellis, a distinguished British surgeon and teacher, wrote this collection of stories about important events in surgery. He describes six operations he deems as breakthroughs, four surgical innovations, and seven famous patients who underwent surgical procedures. Each story is a chapter, some of which were published previously. Ellis gives his definitions of major breakthroughs and surgical innovations in the preface. Not surprisingly, most of the breakthroughs took place in Great Britain, and the innovations took place there or were performed by surgeons who trained there.
Purpose: Although not stated, the author clearly desires to highlight events in surgical history that were important in the development of the field. The public interest in the illnesses of important persons, especially royalty, increases the awareness of the benefits of science and medicine and ultimately benefits these fields.
Audience: This is a book for the serious historian or the casual reader. Unfortunately, the terminology used in describing situations and procedures is highly technical. This will make it difficult reading for the reader without a strong medical background.
Features: With an attractive cover and paper of good quality, this paperback is liberally illustrated with rare photographs. References at the end of each chapter are sparse but sufficient for the reader interested in more information.
Assessment: This book will serve historians as a point of departure into more detailed works, but it need not be in every library. Ellis is an excellent writer. Unfortunately, the terminology restricts the audience. The same book, written for a lay audience, would be an interesting general bookstore selection. The book has no central theme and therefore seems a bit disjointed, probably because some of the chapters were published previously. Nevertheless, I found Ellis's stories entertaining while flying across the Atlantic on a trip to England.