Spare Parts – Paul Craddock

Spare Parts is a very readable history of the evolution of transplants of human body parts, from skin grafts through heart/lung and covering many centuries. Craddock gives us the science involved in an accessible manner. The entire book is my favorite kind of history, full of social, political and cultural context. From earliest times, we receive stories about the scientists and inventors who figured out what worked. We learn the impact on human lives from both the donors ‘and the recipients’ and the surgeons’ perspectives. At its worst, we find that in fact there are stories of people’s organs being stolen and of dirt poor children in England selling their teeth so the rich could have prettier smiles, only to find tooth transplants either don’t work or don’t last long. At its best, we learn about the invention of dialysis by a Dutch researcher and successful kidney transplants.

I am old enough to remember Dr. Christian Barnard and the first heart transplant, the handsome guy who was as much a celebrity at the time as he was a renowned surgeon. This book has great illustrations. Tantalizes us with current research that includes a picture of a spinach leaf with heart cells growing on it. Horrifies us with the number of animals who died in the many experiments that led to this work. Craddock writes with mostly a “this is what happened” and “this eventually was the backlash,” manner. But he can’t help expressly recognizing the values of those who crossed serious ethical and inhumane boundaries to get where we are. He writes with humor, compassion and makes everything very, very personal. I’d love to sit around and hear him talking in a living room at a pot luck dinner about his work. Well done!

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