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  • Published: 1 November 2010
  • ISBN: 9781446400173
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 304

Digging Up the Dead

Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon

The gripping unknown story of a surgeon and his world (from grave robbers to the Prince Regent), told vividly from the inside by someone who is himself a young practising physician, who gives us a real insight into medical history and adds his own intimate, modern experience.

A tearaway young man from Norfolk, Astley Cooper (1768–1841) became the world’s richest and most famous surgeon. Admired from afar by the Brontës and up close by his student Keats, his success was born of an appetite for bloody revolutions. He set up an international network of bodysnatchers, won the Royal Society’s highest prize and boasted to Parliament that there was no one whose body he could not steal. Experimenting on his neighbours’ corpses and the living bodies of their stolen pets, his discoveries were as great as his infamy. Caught up in the French Revolution, and in attempts to bring radical democracy to Britain, Cooper nevertheless rose to become surgeon to royals from the Prince Regent to Queen Victoria. Setting the past against his own reactions to autopsies and operations, hospitals and poetry, Burch’s Digging Up the Dead is a riveting account of a world of gothic horror as well as fertile idealism.

  • Published: 1 November 2010
  • ISBN: 9781446400173
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 304

About the author

Druin Burch

Druin Burch, 34, studied Human Sciences at Oxford. After research in human and chimpanzee genetics, he studied medicine and has worked in hospitals across south east England. He teaches human evolution, physiology and ecology at Oxford, and writes for medical journals, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Burch is author of Digging up the Dead and Taking the Medicine.

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Praise for Digging Up the Dead

Druin Burch has written a detailed and deeply felt biography of this colourful figure... Digging Up the Dead is not simply the biography of a great surgeon, but a brilliant portrait of surgical life before the coming of anaesthesia, anitisepsis, antibiotics, and professional regulations

Literary Review

A physician himself, Burch brings a special insight into episodes whose significance would doubtless be lost or bungled in the hands of another writer... His detailed analyses of early nineteenth-century medical procedures for treating complicated conditions...are masterful, deft and humane


Vivid account of 18th-century surgeon Astley Cooper's life... Burch, also a doctor, mixes his narrative with recollections from his own practice, which serve to enhance this lively biography...All in all a jolly good read

BBC History Magazine

[An] evocative biography... Burch (clearly smitten) dares the reader to empathise with "this vain, egotistical, nepotistic and rather wonderful" man, with considerable success

The Lancet

An ambitious and convincing attempt to bring back to life the man who was responsible for so many less respectable acts of resurrection

New Statesman

Besides being disgustingly entertaining ... these shocking stories are valuable history. As a doctor himself, Burch evokes the tensions between brutality and beautiful science by informing the historical narrative with his own memoirs

New Scientist

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