Cultural historian Paul Craddock takes us on a journey - from sixteenth-century skin grafting to contemporary stem cell transplants - uncovering stories of experiments and operations performed by unexpected people in unexpected places.
Craddock’s explanation of how this knowledge made its way from a coastal village in Calabria to the great university cities of Europe encompasses ancient agriculture, the Galenic doctrine of the four bodily humours, and an illuminating digression about Renaissance gardens. The chapters on blood transfusion and tooth transplantation achieve an equally happy synthesis of intellectual and medical history, drawing on Cartesian philosophy, Vitalism and the remarkable inventions of Jacques de Vaucanson, who constructed automata that included a realistic defecating duck ... one of the surprises of this 'surprising history' is what has been left out. Craddock does not explore the furious moral debate that engulfed transplantation in the 1960s, when concerns over the ethics of organ donation led to nothing less than the redefinition of what it means to be dead or alive. Nor is there any mention of xenotransplantation, the history of (mostly disastrous) attempts to transplant animal organs into humans ... That these omissions are worthy of mention is a tribute to the overall excellence of the book. Much has been written about this subject, but with Spare Parts Paul Craddock has achieved something unique: a serious, entertaining and thoroughly researched work that usefully sets the history of transplantation in the context of the evolution of ideas about the human body.
This parade of death and disease, human ingenuity mingled with so much callousness, and a succession of eminent medics motivated more by the thrill of acclaim than Hippocratic duty or the milk of human kindness, can make for queasy reading, but the author, a research associate at UCL and the Science Museum, strives to keep it compelling...Occasional gleams of spontaneous humanity certainly come as a relief.
The charm and value of Spare Parts comes from situating these landmarks in a wider history of ideas ... I only wish Craddock had discussed the intertwined history of prosthesis, and how non-human adjuncts compete with flesh and blood ... takes pains to keep the donors in view. The contributions of these silent figures have traditionally been considered worthless because they were existential rather than intellectual. Which left me wondering whether this really is the ‘surprising history’ Craddock’s subtitle claims.