Paul Craddock’s Spare Parts offers an original look at the history of medicine itself through the rich, compelling, and delightfully macabre story of transplant surgery from ancient times to the present day.

How did an architect help pioneer blood transfusion in the 1660’s?
Why did eighteenth-century dentists buy the live teeth of poor children?
And what role did a sausage skin and an enamel bath play in making kidney transplants a reality?

We think of transplant surgery as one of the medical wonders of the modern world. But transplant surgery is as ancient as the pyramids, with a history more surprising than we might expect. Paul Craddock takes us on a journey – from sixteenth-century skin grafting to contemporary stem cell transplants – uncovering stories of operations performed by unexpected people in unexpected places. Bringing together philosophy, science and cultural history, Spare Parts explores how transplant surgery constantly tested the boundaries between human, animal, and machine, and continues to do so today.
Witty, entertaining, and illuminating, Spare Parts shows us that the history – and future – of transplant surgery is tied up with questions about not only who we are, but also what we are, and what we might become.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for this ARC! The subtitle of this book is: The Story of Medicine through the History of Transplant Surgery.  There is minimal gore (there are a few exceptions) and a great deal of history. The first chapter starts in the 1500’s and starts out with “Skin” and ends in the 1960’s with “Organs” and “Transplant Future”.  The book also includes illustrations that add another dimension to the written word.

I always love when a book piques my interest so much that I Google the subject to learn more. SPARE PARTS does just that. One of the more…interesting… items was an old YouTube video of disembodied parts living outside the body of deceased dogs. The film was made in 1940 and is found under the title of “Experiments in the Revival of Organisms”.  The highlight (?) of this film is a disembodied dog head reacting to stimuli as it is kept “alive” by an artificial heart and lungs. Not for the faint of heart.

I was totally unaware of the history behind transplants, so reading this book was quite intriguing. Apparently tooth transplants were all the rage in the late 1600’s, with poor children selling their teeth to be transplanted into the mouths of the wealthy. It was poignant to think that the only items of value that those poor children had were their teeth. The book makes note that they were quite eager to sell their dentition in order to make money so they could eat.  I am not sure how satisfying meals were, having to consume their food with minimal or no teeth in their mouth.

The book also discusses blood transfusions between humans and animals, and kidney/heart/organ transplants. There is a great deal of history along with the author’s thoughts on the subjects. SPARE PARTS is written well, in a way that a reader with no medical background will understand. Those with a medical background will enjoy it as well, as the history aspect may add another layer to their knowledge.

I enjoyed reading SPARE PARTS so much, as it taught me more of the historical aspect of transplants and how the practice has evolved over the years. It is always amazing to read about how physicians practiced hundred of years ago, and what they thought about the workings of the human body.

If you are interested in learning more about the unusual history of transplant surgery I definitely recommend this book. Well written and quite interesting!

You can pick up your copy here.