Bill Hayes

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography


In the prologue to "The Anatomist" author Bill Hayes explains why he undertook the task of writing a biography of the author of the famous illustrated textbook "Gray's Anatomy." The reasons stem from his childhood and are multifold: an early interest in becoming a doctor, a fascination with religious (particularly Catholic) and artistic perspectives of the body coupled with an acceptance of his own homosexuality, a growing admiration for the writing and drawing in his bargain table copy of "Gray's Anatomy," and finally an attraction to a photograph of the enigmatic author in his anatomy lab - one of the few traceable artifacts of the man himself. Hence "The Anatomist" is not only a meticulous and fascinating biography of Henry Gray, the writer, and Henry V. Carter, the illustrator of "Gray's Anatomy," but also a memoir of the education and life of Bill Hayes himself during the period of research and writing this book. The book is a masterful mix of the history of medicine, anatomy education both current and historic, methodology of historical research, and poignant, insightful commentary on the frailties of human bodies and human relationships.

Hayes took three anatomy courses at University of California, San Francisco during the preparation of the book - one with pharmacy students, one with physical therapy students, and the final one with medical students. By the third course, Hayes was a pro at dissection and had first hand knowledge and appreciation of the skills needed to be an anatomist.

Because of the paucity of information available on Henry Gray, the bulk of the research rests on the diaries and letters of the tireless, self-critical and amazingly skilled younger member of the book's creative team - the artist-physician Henry Carter. Through Carter's diaries we learn of the formidable genius of Gray, his academic accomplishments, the genesis of the idea for the book, and Gray's early death at age 34.

Interestingly, in a pattern similar to that of Andreas Vesalius's "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," whose illustrator was most likely Jan Stephen van Calcar, the artist Carter receives scant reward or acknowledgement of his vast contributions to the book. Hayes's biography rectifies this hundred-and-fifty-year-old omission by tracking not only the career of Gray, but also Carter. Indeed, peppered throughout "The Anatomist" are more illustrations than quotes from "Gray's Anatomy."

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