The Sawbones Book: The Horrifying, Hilarious Road to Modern Medicine (expanded edition) by Justin and Dr. Syndee McElroy

A picture of the front cover "The Sawbones Book" expanded edition

The snapchat caption reads: Bones!!!!

“The Sawbones Book” has been revised and expanded for 2020 and we all know what that means. No, not a lot of COVID-19 talk, but an expanded infectious disease section that includes historical pandemics, epidemics and global panics feat. some notes about how we’re totally handling this pandemic so much better than we did in the past, (spoiler alert, we’re uh, kinda not).

An excerpt from the book, the main text reads "This led, of course, to panic and a complete lack of coordination on a global level. Some thought it wasn't working because cholera was not communicable and that quarantine was ridiculous. Others just thought we weren't quarantining quickly or strictly enough. No one knew where cholera was coming from yet, so blaming whatever race of humans you didn't like was also very trendy."

An interjection blurb from Justin follows, "Isn't this all so weird and different from today? I'm looking at all this stuff about panic and confusion and blaming different cultures than your own, and it's just so foreign to how we're reacting to coronavirus in good old, super-smart 2020."

The snapchat caption reads "So strange."

The New:

An interjection blurb from Justin reads, "Oh, hachi machi does this next part ever get grody. I wish I hadn't read it, and I helped write it. Ugh. Also, if you notice any really obvious typos, it's because I was only half peeking from between my fingers while I was blasting some really soothing Sarah McLachlan."

The book is largely the same “Sawbones Book” as the previous hardback edition, but with additions, some rearranging, and the corrections of a bunch of typos. (Honestly, there were so many typos in the hardback that I’d assumed they were part of Justin’s “sorry if there were typos, I was trying to avoid looking at what I’m writing cause it’s gross” goof, apparently not.) 

The opening limerick to the section "The Contagious," it reads: "Come read of the times / When germs ran amuck / And ships quarantined in the bay. / Then strap on your mask, / The parade's almost here, / For the past is our present today."

The snapchat caption reads: "I only want to be presented with covid news in limmerick form from now on."

The biggest change is the addition of a “The Contagious” section that replaces “The Unnerving” as the first section of the book, which was bumped back to be section two, and has my absolute favorite opening bit. This new section includes new chapters, such as “Quarantine” and “The Deadly Parade,” and old chapters moved from other sections like “The Black Plague” and “Parrot Fever.”

The Old:

“The Sawbones Book” is a wildly entertaining look at a huge swath medical history. For fans of the podcast, it recaps some of the greatest hits and is written very much the way Justin and Sydnee speak. If you’ve got a brain like mine, you can basically hear them reading the book (and they did actually do the audio book too.) For newcomers, it’s an easy to read look at medical history with a humorous twist that is just missing from your average history book.

My absolute favorite story in the book is the story of Henry Bessemer’s (of Bessemer steel fame) seasick-proof saloon, a free swinging room within a ship designed to prevent seasickness. It went just about as well as you might expect. 

An excerpt from the main text, "Remember how the saloon was swiveling independently of the ship itself? Well, it didn't get the memo that it should cut it out when the ship tried to stop moving. The swinging of the cabin as the ship slowed down made it incredibly difficult to pilot the ship. An lo, did the SS Bessemer end its maiden voyage by crashing in to the pier."

The snapchat caption reads: "Ah yes, physics."

Most importantly, I think, is that this new edition of “The Sawbones Book”  has retained the same ending line, which I love so so much. It is the latter part of Justin’s response to a question from a “The Doctor is In” section, where Sydnee answers general medical questions, and it is simply, “This is, literally, the worst day of my life.” And I feel like that’s just the perfect way to close out having just spent 200 pages learning about hilarious, terribad ‘cures.’

The Verdict:

Go buy this book right now. It’s so much fun and it’s highly accessible to people without a scientific background. There are even handy dandy notes throughout to help you avoid the extra gross stuff, and although some of the page numbers weren’t updated to reflect the new edition, it hardly impacts the reading experience. 

Even if you already bought the previous hardback edition, treat yourself and get yourself the new edition too. It’s definitely worth it.

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