The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I
by Lindsey Fitzharris
There are so few medical history books that deserve five stars, but this is one book that I wish I could give more than five stars.
I first encountered Dr Fitzharris when she hosted “The Curious Life and Death of…” series on the Smithsonian Channel. When I found out she had a Twitter account (@DrLindseyFitz), I quickly followed her when she discussed the subject of her next book, the father of modern plastic surgery, Harold Gillies. Since I already knew something about Dr Gillies work, I was excited to read the book. And as you have guessed, I wasn’t disappointed. I was mesmerized.
Dr Fitzharris expertly weaves three separate paths: before and after World War I; surgeon Harold Gillies, the man who would give faces back to those who thought it was hopeless; and the patients themselves, who had suffered horrendous war injuries.
The author considers herself a storyteller and a teller of stories she is. While the focus of the book was on Dr Gillies, she skillfully explains the background to World War I and the absolute horror of war.
This book doesn’t flinch when it comes to demonstrating the horrors of war. If the verbal descriptions don’t shake the reader to the core, the photographs certainly will.
Given the fact that Dr Gillies was working in an era of surgery where penicillin and other antibiotics we’ve come to depend on won’t be available until the next World War, he does a remarkable job of reconstructing the faces destroyed by gunfire; many times, having to invent new techniques. While the photographs are difficult to look at even today, his work is remarkable.
This is not an easy book to read but read it you should, especially if you are a historian, interested in World War I, or fascinated with medical history.
Review posted: 10/01/2022