This thorough and fascinating treatment of the politics of anatomy studies in 19th-century America provides a variety of perspectives on the vexed question of how appropriately to study human anatomy while also maintaining respect for the human body and honoring the various, deeply held community beliefs, and attitudes toward treatment of the dead. Sappol seeks, as he puts it, to "complicate the cultural history of medicine in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. . . by telling it from an anatomical perspective."

That statement of his objectives hardly suggests the startling range of approaches to the topic he takes in the book's nine chapters. These cover such issues as the legacies of belief about the "personhood" of the dead human body; the status of anatomy as both a legitimate and valuable study and also as an "icon of science"; the relationship of dissection and anatomy study to medical status and professionalization; the political tensions engendered by the "traffic in dead bodies" that most often expropriated corpses from marginalized communities; and the relationship of anatomy studies to sexual commerce and sensationalist fiction.


Comprehensive as it is, the book maintains its readability, liveliness, and surprise; while the chapters sustain an argument, each chapter has its own focus and integrity, so that the book may be read and enjoyed as a series of related essays on a variety of issues related to the history and ethics of anatomy study. Though probably a bit of an uphill course for general readers, and despite its rather specialized nature, the book has wide appeal, wit, provocative arguments, and vigorous interdisciplinarity. A gem for those interested in medical history, attitudes toward the body, and the sources of attitudes toward bodies, illness, death, and physicians.


Princeton Univ. Press

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