Crucial Interventions (Thames & Hudson 2015)

Crucial final cover

The nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in the principles, practice and reputation of surgery. Crucial Interventions – the follow-up to my best-selling and award-winning The Sick Rose – is another unique and captivating collaboration with Thames & Hudson and Wellcome Collection.

Arranged in anatomical order, from head to toe, and accompanied by an authoritative, eloquent and inspiring text on the cultural and intellectual history of surgery, Crucial Interventions draws on the very best examples of rare surgical textbooks with a focus on the extraordinary visual materials of the mid-nineteenth century.

Unnerving and graphic, yet beautifully rendered, these fascinating illustrations include step-by-step surgical techniques paired with medical instruments and depictions of operations in progress. With a foreword from leading surgical educator and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow Professor Roger Kneebone, Crucial Interventions is a remarkable book on one of the world’s most macabre professions.

You can read more about Crucial Interventions on the Thames & Hudson website, and buy a copy on AmazonCrucial Interventions is published in Taiwan by Rye Field Publications, and in China by Imaginist Press. Kate Wands at Thames & Hudson handles press & publicity enquiries for the Sick Rose series.

Praise for Crucial Interventions

‘Like its predecessor The Sick Rose, this book combines a gripping narrative with beautiful and often uncomfortable illustrations drawn from Wellcome’s unique collections. Though always erudite, Barnett wears his scholarship lightly, and his arguments are both eloquent and persuasive. This is a book to be savoured.’ – Professor Roger Kneebone, from his foreword to Crucial Interventions

Crucial Interventions is an incredible meditation on the dawn of modern medicine. Barnett masterfully explains the origins of surgery, supplementing it with vivid illustrations from nineteenth century surgical textbooks. Thoroughly researched yet delivered in layman’s terms, Barnett leaves no question unanswered. A truly captivating feast for the mind and eyes—provided you can stomach the grisly illustrations.’ – The Lineup

‘Always beautiful, often disturbing and sometimes chilling … eloquent, fascinating and insightful.’ – Fortean Times

Coverage and events

Joanna Bourke gave Crucial a nice review in the Telegraph, and Rebecca Onion chose it as Slate Pick. The Guardian Culture website hosted a gallery of images from the book, as did Buzzfeed and Hyperallergenic. Here’s a short film about it, set in Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room. The Lancet published ‘Between survival and wholeness’ – a reflection on my own experiences under the knife and the place of patients in the history of surgery.

I talked about Crucial Interventions at Carlyle’s House in Chelsea, the Hampstead and Highgate Literary Festival, the York Festival of Ideas, the Cheltenham Science Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and Wellcome Collection, and spoke at the National Archives as part of my stint as their Writer of the Month. Carianne Whitworth interviewed me for the National Archives blog.