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The Facemaker

One Surgeon's Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I

Lindsey Fitzharris



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05 September 2023
The poignant story of the visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War's injured heroes, and in the process ushered in the modern era of plastic surgery

From the moment the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear- mankind's military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. The war's new weaponry, from tanks to shrapnel, enabled slaughter on an industrial scale, and given the nature of trench warfare, thousands of soldiers sustained facial injuries. Medical advances meant that more survived their wounds than ever before, yet disfigured soldiers did not receive the hero's welcome they deserved.

In The Facemaker, award-winning historian Lindsey Fitzharris tells the astonishing story of the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who dedicated himself to restoring the faces - and the identities - of a brutalized generation. Gillies, a Cambridge-educated New Zealander, became interested in the nascent field of plastic surgery after encountering the human wreckage on the front. Returning to Britain, he established one of the world's first hospitals dedicated entirely to facial reconstruction in Sidcup, south-east England. There, Gillies assembled a unique group of doctors, nurses and artists whose task was to recreate what had been torn apart. At a time when losing a limb made a soldier a hero, but losing a face made him a monster to a society largely intolerant of disfigurement, Gillies restored not just the faces of the wounded but also their spirits.

Meticulously researched and grippingly told, The Facemaker places Gillies's ingenious surgical innovations alongside the poignant stories of soldiers whose lives were wrecked and repaired. The result is a vivid account of how medicine and art can merge, and of what courage and imagination can accomplish in the presence of relentless horror.
Imprint:   Penguin
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 194mm,  Width: 126mm,  Spine: 26mm
Weight:   260g
ISBN:   9780141990293
ISBN 10:   0141990295
Pages:   336
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Lindsey Fitzharris is the author of The Butchering Art, which won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing, and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize and the Wolfson History Prize. She received her doctorate in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at the University of Oxford and was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Wellcome Institute. She contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American and other notable publications.

Reviews for The Facemaker: One Surgeon's Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I

In this fascinating book, Fitzharris reminds us there is nothing superficial about plastic surgery's ability to heal minds as well as bodies. Five stars -- Kathryn Hughes * Mail on Sunday * Scholarly yet deeply moving... This is a fascinating book about a remarkable man, and of how teamwork is such an important part of good surgery. Despite the grim subject matter, it is a deeply moving and uplifting story -- Henry Marsh * New Statesman * Careful... sensitive... [Fitzharris] has successfully pieced together the story of a team of doctors, hospital workers and patients battling together during the First World War to modernize reconstructive plastic surgery... Fitzharris constructs a variegated and tender account of the First World War, its brutality and its narratives of human redemption... Tenderness and pathos pervade the personal stories of surgery and recovery, as well as Fitzharris's engagement with the ethics of facial difference and display -- Christine Slobogin * TLS * The Facemaker is an engaging biography of a masterful surgeon as well as a heartening account of medical progress * Economist * Meticulously researched... Five stars -- Catharine Arnold * Telegraph * Sometimes distressing, sometimes thrilling, The Facemaker had me gripped; it is elegantly written and endlessly fascinating. Employing just the right balance between diligent research and ingenious reanimation, Fitzharris brings to life a neglected slice of medical history, telling both Gillies' story as well as that of many of the men whose faces - and lives - he saved -- Lucy Scholes * Financial Times * Engrossing... Fitzharris presents an intensely moving and hugely enjoyable story about a remarkable medical pioneer and the men he remade -- Wendy Moore * Guardian * A skilled storyteller, Fitzharris takes the reader back to the front, making them trudge and slide through mud filled with missing limbs to find the people who stagger into Gillies's casebooks... Properly contextualised, these faces become not objects of horror or surgery, as they have been all too often used, but pathways into understanding what it is to lose a face, and with it, not only the ability to eat, drink and breathe, but also social acceptance and love -- Fay Bound Alberti * The Lancet * With rich, glossy strokes The Facemaker restores a sense of immediacy to the daily struggles facing Gillies and his colleagues as they improvised under constant pressure -- James Riding * The Times * Out of war's most awful wounds, out of gore and terror and pain, Lindsey Fitzharris has - like Sir Harold Gillies himself - crafted something inspiring and downright miraculous. I cannot imagine the sweat and sleuthing and doggedness that went into gathering the details and building the narratives of these men's struggles. This book is riveting. It is gruesome but it is also uplifting. For as much as there is blood and bone and pus in these pages, there is heart. As Fitzharris shows us, the scalpel is mightier than the grenade, and the pen is mightiest of all. What a triumph this book is -- Mary Roach Like Harold Gillies himself, Lindsey Fitzharris has taken something we might think of as grim and transformed it into something beautiful. Gillies will be an unsung hero no more -- Sam Kean Wow, what a book. Enthralling. Harrowing. Heartbreaking. And utterly redemptive. Lindsey Fitzharris hit this one out of the park -- Erik Larson, author of THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE Here is that rare thing: a little-known story of the Great War, featuring a pioneering surgeon every bit as daring as the soldiers he saved. Beautifully written, illuminating, and bursting with fascinating detail, The Facemaker is a groundbreaking work that deserves its own genre: medical noir. You won't be able to put it down -- Karen Abbott, author of THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK I was an admirer of Fitzharris's award-winning first book, The Butchering Art, about Joseph Lister. This is her absorbing account of another surgeon: Harold Gillies, who established one of the world's first hospitals dedicated entirely to facial reconstruction -- Editor's pick * The Bookseller * Equal parts devastating and inspiring. The horrors of war are laid bare here, but the stories of each of the soldiers, doctors, nurses, and artists are incredibly poignant and fascinating. I couldn't put it down -- Jenny Lawson An extraordinary story about a remarkable man whose work, determination and skill changed countless lives -- Peter Frankopan, author of THE SILK ROADS Graphic yet inspiring, engaging... [Fitzharris] delivers a consistently vivid account... An excellent biography of a genuine miracle worker -- Starred review * Kirkus * Wonderful... It was written with a clarity that I loved - although the book is packed with fascinating information, it read as easily as a novel... It is really inspiring and beautifully written -- Lucy Nathan * Bookbrunch * A fascinating portrait of pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies and the soldiers whose faces he rebuilt during WWI... Meticulously researched and compulsively readable, this exceptional history showcases how compassion and innovation can help mitigate the terrible wounds of war * Starred Review, Publishers Weekly * Sometimes, you just know. From the moment I read The Facemaker's excellent prologue, I knew I had a book on my hands... Fitzharris is a gifted storyteller and delights in just about the right amount of detail -- Matthew Shipsey * Irish Times * Informative... A powerful portrait of a gifted man -- Oliver-James Campbell * New Scientist * The Facemaker conveys the emotional, physical and psychical effects of having an injured and altered face, directly from those who had to deal with them... Powerful -- Sharrona Pearl * Washington Post * In The Facemaker, Fitzharris rescues another vital yet largely forgotten figure from history. Blending scrupulous research with a novelist's eye, the author charts Gillies's extraordinary contribution to reconstructive surgery and weaves in touching accounts of the soldiers he treated. Stark and occasionally unsettling, the book reveals Gillies as both a craftsman and an artist, and underlines how by restoring the faces of the maimed Gillies was also restoring their lives and identities -- Brendan Daly * Business Post * Vividly thrilling * Nature *

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