The Facemaker

There are no textbooks.

It’s one detail among all the other revelations that Lindsey Fitzharris offers in The Facemaker, and it never ceases to amaze me. British surgeon Harold Gillies and his team had no textbooks when they were asked to reconstruct the faces of some of the roughly 280,000 men who suffered facial trauma during World War I.

The faces of these soldiers were blown to smithereens and burnt by the new technologies that this war brought: machine guns, chemical weapons, flamethrowers, grenades and fiery blocks of explosives. As one field nurse put it, “The science of healing is helpless in the face of science of destruction.”

In The Facemaker, scientific and medical historian Fitz Harris provides a convincing, old-fashioned account of Gillies’ work in plastic surgery, before “plastic surgery” officially became a specialty. As Fitz Harris admits, procedures such as cleft palate correction and ear flattening were well done prior to World War I, and some basic “plastic surgery” involving skin grafts and rubber prostheses were On soldiers with facial damage in the American Civil War.

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