Cover Image: The Facemaker

The Facemaker

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Member Reviews

This book is about the history of modern plastic surgery and how the original application of the surgery was used for disfigured soliders during World War I. Its also a history of the early plastic surgeon, Harold Gillies and how he was an early pioneer of modern day plastic surgery. He had used artists to document the progress of the surgeries of his patients, since many of them needed multiple surgeries in order to heal the injuries they had endured during the war. This book also shows how medicine can be an art as well as a science. I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review from NetGalley
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Thanks to NetGalley for providing the ebook in exchange for a review. 

This book was so good! I don’t know when I first heard of Harold Gillies, sometime after I watched Boardwalk Empire and liked Jack Huston’s character - the character has a mask to cover his facial damage and I wanted to know more, which led me to the work that Harold Gillies did. 

Gillies pioneered modern plastic surgery and realized the importance of working with other sorts of people. His teams included surgeons, dentists, artists, and whoever else had a needed skill. This book focuses on the men and women who worked with Gillies - the medical techniques they created or perfected, the artistic records of procedures, the prosthetics that were created - and the patients who needed his help. 

This was fascinating and read easily. There were times it felt a little repetitive as most chapters followed the same format, but the information was all really interesting and presented well.

I’ve been meaning to read Lindsey Fitzharris’s other book, The Butchering Art, so when this came up on NetGalley I was interested. I’m so glad I read this and will need to bump her other book up my tbr list.
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THE FACEMAKER is an impressive, intense, and fact-packed book, not only about the development of plastic surgery, but also an insight into World War One and its devastating effects. I admit my understanding of the war was negligible prior to reading this, but now I have learned enough to have my interest piqued and I want to learn more. I have just requested a review copy of MEN OF 18 IN 1918 by Frederick James Hodges, a book that I would have certainly passed over if I had not read THE FACEMAKER. 

Dr Harold Gillies is the titular surgeon who is constantly creating new ways to help disfigured soldiers (warning! Link leads to extremely graphic photos that may be disturbing) live normal lives. It is noted that those who had lost limbs were celebrated as heroes fighting for their country, while those who sustained facial injuries were shunned and considered freaks. The reasoning behind this is: faces and their ability to create expressions are what makes us “human”, and any deviation of what is considered “normal” creates discomfort. A face without a nose, or with a shattered jaw is difficult to look at, and so those poor soldiers were hidden away from the general public. The wards where those men were kept contained no mirrors, lest they catch a glimpse of themselves and lose the will to live. 

Gillies is not the only doctor mentioned in this book; many other courageous surgeons contributed to the effort to repair these poor soldiers. The book is interspersed with descriptions of action on the Western Front, excerpts from diary entries from the soldiers that were lucky enough to have their journals survive (even if they didn’t), and accounts of how collaboration among the doctors furthered their knowledge and experience. 
What fascinated me the most was hearing about the soldier’s activity on the battlefield, how he came to be injured, then his ordeal with Dr Gillies, enduring multiple operations while new techniques were tried time and time again. The book does contain a lot of graphic detail, so if you are squeamish, be aware. 

I learned about artwork bringing attention to the soldier’s plight – one of the more poignant ones is the painting by John Singer Sargent entitled Gassed. The human cost of war is depicted in this 21-foot-long epic work. Other paintings and drawings are noted throughout the book, explaining how these methods helped the physicians rebuild faces. Sculpture was also used; multiple casts were made as the recreation and correction of each visage progressed. 

The epilogue of THE FACEMAKER notes how plastic surgery evolved from a necessity to a luxury; rhinoplasty, facelifts, and the like were performed by Gillies long after the war was over. He continued to help others feel better about themselves until he died in 1960. He was a true visionary whose work ethic and kindness made the world a better place for many, many others.
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Excellent account of the medical challenges and advances made during and after World War I in facial reconstruction. Dr. Harold Gillies was a pioneer in this field and pulled in other doctors, dentists, artists, and sculptors to help give these disfigured men back their lives. Working under terrible conditions and faced with multiple medical obstacles, this team did perform miracles.

Given the subject matter, this is probably not a book for the squeamish but the story of the horrendous surgeries and Dr. Gillies' work was fascinating. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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The Facemaker is the fascinating story of Harold Gillies, whose work in developing the legitimacy of plastic surgery, not only gave new life to disfigured World War I solders, but who also served to create a new field of surgery.  Lindsey Fitzharris has created a book rich in history and personal stories.

Fitzharris relates the stories of the many successes that Gillies created for his patients, whose lives has been shattered by the bullets, bombs, and fires of war.  She also includes an essential history of the Great War, including the important battles and the final signing of the armistice.  The irony of this final signing of documents to end the war, also included some of the men, whose faces had been destroyed by 4 years of war. 

To create the many different techniques needed to reconstruct a face destroyed by war, Gillies needed to experiment with different techniques that would prove successful.  There were failures of course, and Fitzharris gives voice to the failures, as well as the successes.  However, The Facemaker is much more than a limited biography of Gillie's career, it is also includes a history of the easiest attempts at facial reconstruction, many of which date from hundreds of years earlier.  Gillies was able to take these earliest attempts at facial reconstruction and remake them to fit the damages of a current war.  What becomes clear in Fitzharris' book is that the Great War is not the first conflict to destroy a soldier's face, nor would it becomes the last war to do so. 

The last chapter of The Facemaker is rich with notes and sources for Fitzharris' book.  There were no photos in the ARC that I was provided by the publisher,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  I am unsure if photos or illustrations were to be included in the final print copy.  I thank the author and publisher for providing access to this ARC.  My review includes my own honest thoughts of this book's strengths.  I highly recommend this book and thank NetGalley for listing it.
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special thanks to net galley for giving me a book about a doctor (not sarcasm really but doctors, specially surgeons make me uncomfortable)
so being inside one's head has definitely been an experience. i am a history aficionado, so this definitely hit the spot.
I would personally love to thank Lindsey Fitzharris for the research effort (at least it seems that way), loved it.
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*received for free from netgalley for honest review* Great read, very interesting! i read a book last year that was a fictional story of one of the "Silver masked" men and another one earlier this year about transplants so there was some stuff i already knew and cases i had heard of before but this was much more in depth and detail. would buy!
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This was an amazing story about a plastic surgeon, a pioneer to this field, named Harold Gillies. The amazing things he was able to accomplish giving many young men their faces back after the devastating wounds they received to their face on the battlefield during World War 1 was awe inspiring.

This was not an easy book to read as Lindsey Fitzharris brought into the story details of battles and the horrible wounds the men suffered. In her telling, she made the battle scenes, the operations, the novel approaches come alive. It was a story of innovation, a story of venturing into an unknown region, a story of the brave men and a doctor who gave them hope.

Gilles was an amazing man, not only as a doctor, but also as a man who believed in the men he treated and strived to be able to remove them from the "monster" image so many had. It was a horror that Gillies and others were able to remove from these boys so that they were able to lead normal lives and not be shunned in a public forum. 

Without men like Dr Gillies, the art of plastic surgery would not have progressed so far and be what it is today. The courage, the belief in one's fellow man, and the ultimate work of Gillies and his team made life bearable and wonderful for so many boys who gave so much for their country during the war.

Fascinating story and thanks to Lindsay Fitzharris, Allen Lane, and NetGaley for a copy of this story.
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Absolutely fascinating! This book was difficult to read at times, as it doesn't shy away from the brutal facts of World War I. But it was also well written and empathetic, and the story of how Harold Gellies refined his skills on the fly to restore the badly damaged faces of so many soldiers is positively astounding.
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As a nurse who also enjoys history, I appreciated the extensive background on reconstructive surgery set during WWI, and the pioneer physicians and other specialists who led the way. The personal stories of the injured soldiers brought the book to life.

I do think I would have enjoyed it a bit more without the details of specific battles, and with a focus that was more narrow.  3.5 stars
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From the award-winning author of The Butchering Art comes another fascinating look into the world of medicine. With her new book The Facemaker, Lindsey Fitzharris brings warmth, humor, and humanity to the story of Harold Gillies, a surgeon who used techniques both old and pioneering to repair the faces of British soldiers ravaged by emerging military weaponry during WW1.  Led by impeccable research couched in riveting and accessible prose, Fitzharris effortlessly transports the reader from the battlefields of The Great War to the life-changing surgeries that restored dignity to British veterans. Highly recommended!
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I knew a tiny bit about the subject of facial reconstruction [and the masks that were also used to cover defects that could not be corrected by surgery] that started in WW1 due to an excellent historical mystery series that talks about it is several of its book [Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear], but didn't know how it started and the Doctor that really created it and kept it going. 

The author is a really good writer [and the narrator that was picked was also excellent] and there were moments when I could hear the bombs falling and the men screaming and it was very disturbing while also being educational. There is so much  about that war [and war in general, but particularly WW1] that was horrific and the battles that rages for months at a time and it was almost too much to read at times, and heartbreaking always. 

And yet, in the midst of all that horror, there was Dr. Gillies. He was an amazing man who just wanted to give these poor men their lives back in the best way possible and while he didn't always accomplish this, he did the very best he could and I think he should have gotten every medal possible for the work he did [and then did again in the second world war] and the men and women he trained in how to care for such injured men. It is a powerful story that will not soon leave a person [I know I will never forget this one] and you will forever be changed by these stories and the Dr. who  leads them. 

I have the author's other book about Joseph Lister and once I have settled from this one, I think I will dive into that one. She is a very gifted writer and I know I will be reading anything she writes. 

I was also granted a audiobook ARC for this book and wow, was that narrator fantastic - he is now added to my "favorites" list [and I will be looking for more books that he narrates in the future]. He really makes the story come alive and reads the stories of war and destruction and battle scenes with such reverence and respect - I am not sure how he read some of this book without breaking into tears, Kudos to him and a job very well done. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Lindsey Fitzharris, Daniel Gillies - Narrator, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and Macmillan Audio for providing this ARC and audiobook ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A great piece of nonfiction. I had fun learning all about this new historical figure. Accessible and easy writing style. I would recommend for fans of The Butchering Art and other medical history books. Highly enjoyable
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The Facemaker is a nonfiction book covering facial reconstructive surgery during World War I. The book focuses on the work of Harold Gillies, one of the surgeons who pushed the boundaries of plastic surgery during this time. I'm the granddaughter of a plastic surgeon who specialized in hand reconstruction and am generally interested in the history of medicine, so I was excited to request this book and to read it! What I was not expecting was how blown away I was by this story and the compelling writing. 

I loved this book. I never thought that I would look forward to reading about facial reconstruction or surgery before going to bed but Fitzharris proved me wrong! I had such a good time reading it that I was upset when it ended because I wanted to know more. The story was so compelling, the writing so good, the time period so interesting, and the subject so new to me that I couldn't put the book down. And nonfiction is usually the hardest for me to get through!

As you can imagine, this book is pretty gruesome. If you have ANY issues with blood, gore, detailed medical procedures, or anything of that ilk, this is NOT the book for you. I felt like the descriptions weren't overly gratuitous or macabre, but it definitely goes into detail throughout the book.

I HIGHLY recommend this book if you are at all into nonfiction, the history of medicine, biography, or just a good story. 5/5 stars from me. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the electronic advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!

CW: Violence, medical procedures, blood, detailed descriptions of surgery, war, death
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As a future History teacher, I love reading fascinating stories across the world and across different eras. I love reading about advancements and changes to the world and one author who brings you into the decade and shows the medical advancements of the time is Lindsey  Fitzharris. Her first book The Butchering Art was an enthralling read about Victorian Surgery and she delivers another phenomenal book with The Facemaker!

This book delivers with Fitzharris bringing you into the period and not only describing what the world of surgery was like during WW1 but also just how the world ran in the time period. The book never drones on about certain facts and instead reads like a story and keeps you connected by funny anecdotes and strange and eccentric characters who would be on the forefront of Plastic Surgery and Facial Reconstruction. This book is much like the way History class should be: detailed, fun, enthralling but also moving and introspective. 

Fitzharris allows readers to see just how difficult the war was but especially what it was like for the wounded and just how revolutionary Gillies and his colleagues were when it came to the reconstruction methods. 

Overall Fitzharris creates a book that should be read by any fan interested in WW1 and those who enjoy medical history. This is definitely going to be on my class required reading!!
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The Facemaker is a unique look at the history of modern plastic surgery which emerged during WW1. It follows Harold Gillies and his evolution as a surgeon, creating new techniques and assembling a team of professionals who would work to give back soldiers their identities. The book also explores the beginnings of anesthesiology, hematology, and other medical sciences. It is fascinating and impeccably researched, filled with so much detail. It reads like a fiction book with primary source quotes sprinkled in. There are happy and funny moments among the tragic reality. We are able to understand how both the doctors and patients felt, not just what happened. Something that I loved about this book was that it was patient-focused, and we learned all aspects of the soldiers' stories: from the battlefield, throughout their operations and healing process, and their life after the war. This book does contain graphic descriptions of face wounds and surgeries, but they are necessary to understand the extent of the war's destruction and how talented these surgeons were. Fitzharris beautifully weaves a tale of how healing and creation came from the destruction of war. 

Thank you to the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for an unpublished copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. Harold Gillies is a doctor working for the British military during World War One. He basically refines plastic surgery as we know it today as he tries to bring back the shattered faces of the many soldiers that come and stay at his hospital as Gillies invents one method after another, through painful trial and error, to try and give these men a sense of healing. It’s also a great short history of the war. While harrowing at many turns, Gullies is so innovative, and unfailingly decent, that you would follow his story in a book twice as long.
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During the pandemic, in the months when the faculty and staff were working from home, I worked my way through all of the episodes of ER and Botched (among other shows). I was fascinated by the way medical knowledge advanced during the run of ER (1994-2009) and what the two surgeons on Botched were able to do for their patients to rebuild faces and bodies. Lindsey Fitzharris’s illuminating (and occasionally harrowing) account of the work of Sir Harold Gillies during World War I, The Facemaker, takes us back just over 100 years, to explore the dawn of plastic surgery. It turns out that some of the things the doctors on Botched do were pioneered by Gillies and his collaborative team of surgeons and dentists whereas others (like the use of ether and chloroform as anesthesia) are now seen as primitive. It’s even more remarkable when you know that this incredible, ground-breaking work was done as thousands of patients were pouring into Gillies’s hospital over four years of unceasing warfare on the Western Front.

Although Gillies practiced surgery before and after the war (Gillies died just a month after performing his last surgery), Fitzharris focuses her account on the war years, when Gillies and his team were constantly pushed to innovate. She opens by explaining that soldiers in World War I faced weapons that were much more dangerous, on a much bigger scale, than in previous wars. Poison gasses could kill, blind, and maim lungs in seconds. Machine guns were in every trench, ready for anyone to stick their heads over the top. Artillery produced massive craters in and out of the trenches that would obliterate anything in their path. And yet, at the beginning of the war, some armies sent their infantry into battle with flimsy helmets or no hard protection for their heads at all. The iconic Tommy helmets came a bit later. Conditions on the ground meant that, if a soldier was wounded, they were very likely to pick up infections before they could be rescued and sent to a hospital. Given the nature of the weapons they faced, it was little wonder that so many soldiers suffered catastrophic injuries that also required their doctors to learn, almost on the fly, radical techniques to treat their patients.

Fitzharris is incredibly good at condensing a lot of medical history in the chapters of The Facemaker. She can dip into medical history reaching as far back as Sushruta or briefly explain the history of blood transfusions and blood-typing to catch readers up on what they need to know to understand what Gillies et al. are doing with their surgical techniques. Plastic surgery (plastic in this case meaning shapeable or malleable) had been performed before World War I, but it was rare. Pre-anesthesia, pre-antisepsis, and pre- a lot of things we see as necessary for safe surgery, plastic surgery was very experimental before Gillies came to maxillofacial surgery. Fitzharris’ descriptions of Gillies’s techniques are clear. For readers who want more, there are archives of before, in-progress, and after photos of soldiers who had their faces rebuilt at Gillies’s hospital. Rebuilt is the right word. Some of the patients Gillies and his fellow surgeons saw were missing teeth, jaws, noses, eyes, and a lot of skin. Gillies and his team were able to rebuild faces from ruin.

It takes a remarkable kind of person to walk into unprecedented medical cases and think about what was possible, rather than focus on what they’d been taught was impossible. Gillies and many of the people he worked with during the war had the right mix of talents, thoughts, and personalities to work with patients who had been through physical and psychological hell. I’m glad Fitzharris retells Gillies’s story and the stories of several of his patients and colleagues; these stories should never be forgotten.
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Advances in fire power and modern weaponry introduced horrors to the battlefield during World War I, and resulted in some of the most devastating injuries to the face and head, the likes of which had never before been seen by the physicians and medical staff serving at the front.
The Facemaker, by Lindsey Fitzharris, is the story of pioneering surgeon Harold Gillies who helped develop and legitimize the field of plastic surgery, and spent his war and post-war years attempting to restore and reconstruct the faces of the badly injured soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the British forces.
And while much of the book deals (rightly so) with Gillies and his progress in reconstructive surgery, Fitzharris also beautifully weaves the stories of some of his patients into the narrative. Using letters, diaries, and other primary sources, she creates lovingly detailed portraits that help reconstruct the lives of  these damaged men. The result is a multi-layered, deeply human account that gives both Gillies and his patients a voice and a place in history as we learn how he and his team of dentists, sculptors, and artists worked together to restore confidence in their patients, and give these men back their lives.

The Facemaker is wonderful and really is the best kind of history book: fast-paced, dynamic, and highly readable (if horrific and rather gory at times, truly not for the faint of heart!) It is a story that allows a glimpse not only into the world of Harold Gillies and the historic path he forged, but into the lives of the people he saved. 

I am so grateful to Net Galley for this ARC.
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3.5 stars rounded up

I've been following Lindsey on Twitter for a while, and am always fascinated with what she shares there and her areas of scientific history exploration and interest. So I was excited to jump into this book that was about a huge moment in the history of plastic surgery.

The Facemaker is obviously extensively and lovingly researched. Fitzharris uses the work of Dr. Gillies to share the history of reconstructive surgical efforts, going back to antiquity at times, as well as diving into the complementary efforts of other medical professionals around him at the time that helped to create better processes for restoring facial disfigurations in soldiers. For example, chapter 2 focuses on a dentist, Valadier, who was instrumental in helping to determine some reconstruction techniques when it came specifically to the jaw.

While I found all of the information shared here fascinating and engrossing, there are two things that mainly hampered my enjoyment of this book. The first is a me thing. I expected more of a micro-history, very focused on particular cases of soldiers. The book instead is more of a broad and contextual look at the past and future of plastic surgery, in relation to WWI, and how the work that Dr. Gillies did was impacted and in turn affected the field. The other is that, for me, it felt a bit disorganized, and I think it could have used a heavier editing hand. For example, there were some repetitions in different chapters, of exact phrasing, or reintroducing something again that had already been introduced and explained earlier in the book. In that way, it felt kind of like a series of previously written pieces that were then attempted to cobble together. Like a jukebox musical: it sort of works, but some things just feel a little bit off.

The book is definitely not for the squeamish, as there are quite graphic descriptions of all kinds of battlefield injuries. These descriptions are important for context, and not gratuitous, but could be upsetting to some readers.

Overall, though, I feel more equipped to handsell this one now that I've read it myself and can help it find the right readers.

As a fun bonus, actor Daniel Gillies (of Vampire Diaries fame) is a relative of the doctor, and read the audiobook! I didn't listen to the audiobook but thought I would share this factoid I saw on Twitter in case someone wanted to read the book that way.

CW: gore, sexism
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