Read Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It by Julie M. Fenster Online


Though ether may not spring to mind in a search for the "greatest" medical discovery, the description of surgery before ether at the beginning of this book will make a strong case for it. This fascinating account tells of the three men responsible for bringing ether to the world and details their bitter falling-out....

Title : Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780060933173
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It Reviews

  • Vanessa
    2019-02-24 10:43

    Ether Day tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the men who were involved the invention of ether. The subject matter is fascinating - it's wild to think about life before anesthetics and how much medical practice truly changed with stronger solutions to pain. We really take for granted that anesthesia is safe and accessible. There's a heavy focus on the legal aspects of the discovery - if you're interested in the history of patent law, this'll be a great read for you - and also the lesser-known aspects of the lives of the men who claimed to discover it. You won't find anything about William T. G. Morton's early days as a con-man through more cursory research, for instance. This is also a delightful read if you're a medical history nerd who comes from Boston. Many of the places (from institutions to streets) mentioned are still around today.While I liked the book overall, I had trouble getting into Fenster's writing style. I wouldn't say it's dry, but the book didn't grab me quite as firmly as some of the other medical histories I've read. It's difficult to put my finger on. This didn't spoil the book by any means, but it just wasn't a page-turner for me.

  • Aimeeeastwood
    2019-03-05 13:55

    Really interesting... was psyched that on page 5 they introduce William Morton as one of the men responsible for figuring out how to use ether for surgery since Morton is a family name and there's a chance he's a distant relative. Until they reveal that he was wanted in 5 states for fraud and spends the whole book trying to get credit for something he likely didn't have much to do with discovering. I have to admire his gumption, at least... go Mortons! Luckily he didn't kill anyone.

  • Sandy
    2019-02-23 18:34

    Interesting historical perspective on the discovery of anesthesia especially considering all of the other famous people involved, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel Morse.

  • Kyle Wendy Skultety (
    2019-03-09 18:38

    This review originally appeared on my blog at to the author for gifting me this book for review!ETHER DAY is meticulously researched; the characters are brought to life via the detailed descriptions of their lives and mental states.To think that people were operated on with no care for their pain, yet Laughing Gas (ether) was used by non medical people for fun and escape, is mind boggling. No one made the connection between the two until William Morton, Horace Wells, and Charles Jackson “discovered” the other uses of this gas.The fact that these three men’s lives overlapped was both good and bad: the discovery of ether as an anesthetic made both patient’s and surgeon’s lives better, but there was a lot of vitriol and ego involved as well. Each stood to make his fortune via ether, yet their lives were not always brightened by their actions.Fenster has clearly done her research: there is both an index and endnotes, showing the comprehensive reading she did to recreate this story. She also includes a bibliography for further reading. The 1800’s come to life under her expert prose and background detail. I especially enjoyed the explanation of how the gas was delivered, and how the machines were tinkered with to provide a more accurate mixing of gas and air. The fact that these men experimented on themselves shows both folly and determination – in Chapter 14, Chlory, there is a section about scientists sniffing different concoctions of gases to figure out the best combination.Every Thursday evening they would gather at the Simpson home, sitting around the dining table to inhale candidate chemicals. “I selected for experiment and have inhaled several chemical liquids of a more fragrant and agreeable odor,” Simpson wrote in a medical journal during the course of his research, “such as the chlorine of hydrocarbon, acetone, nitrate of oxide of ethyle, benzin, the vapour of chloroform, etc.”One old friend, a professor named Miller, made a habit of dropping by at breakfast time every Friday, so he said, to see if anyone was dead. The lengths these men went to in the name of science is unheard of today. As the book jacket notes, Ether Day is a little known anniversary, yet without the actions of these men there would have been greater suffering in this world. They were not heros, either – just men trying to make money or a name for themselves, who fell into a bizarre chain of events that would send them all down a crazy rabbit hole and eventually break them.Author Julie Fenster has brought the memory of these men out of the past and placed it firmly into our awareness with ETHER DAY. I commend her for choosing her subject wisely and keeping this discovery relevant, in a new way.

  • loupgarous
    2019-03-13 12:48

    This book by American Heritage magazine columnist and New York Times contributor Julie M. Fenster is a remarkable account of the history of modern anesthesia (a word assigned to the procedure by no less than the estimable Daniel Webster) and the lives of the men who worked to gain its acceptance in the medical world. Fenster has a wonderful dry wit, which comes in handy when describing the antics of William Morton - the mountebank and physician manque who aimed to make his fortune selling an orange-scented version of common sulphuric ether (named in what seems to be the first trademark of a medical good, "Letheon") and who left a record of swindles and business fraud ranging from New Hampshire to New Orleans before demonstrating to the physicians of Massachusetts General Hospital the usefulness of ether in surgery - largely removing its greatest terror, unrelieved pain. While effusive in her praise of the procedure of anesthesia itself, Fenster gives us wonderful "warts and all" portraits of the major personalities who jockeyed for the title of "inventor of anesthesia," which included William Morton and at least two respected New England physician-scholars. The venues for this struggle included the United States House of Representatives (where certain Representatives fought to get their state's "favorite son" recognition and money for the distinction of giving anesthesia to the world. This is a wonderful history of anesthesia as we have come to know it, in that early stage where it dramatically improved the lot of surgical patients with chemicals which before then were scientific curiosities used mainly for the entertainment of the middle class as then-legal recreational drugs.

  • Nancy
    2019-03-16 12:42

    I quite liked this book, unexpectedly lent to me. Having read a fair amount of non-fiction history, I thought the author did a pretty good job at bringing the main characters to life. Ether Day was almost a minor role in what played out for many years between the men who wanted to be acknowledged as the person who introduced ether to the medical world. The stories of the men and their personalities were quite vivid and surprisingly dramatic. The story of ether was also a surprise, as I had been unaware of the prevalence of social use of ether prior to Ether Day. The science of ether and the medical use was more like mortar between bricks, not taking up a lot of the book, but it was nicely integrated and provided the structure to explore the responses of the medical profession in other places besides Boston, where the 1st hospital use is likely to have occurred. I would go for a 3.5 here, as I think the book was quite interesting for such an unexpected topic.

  • Anthony
    2019-03-10 10:46

    Ether Day is a fascinating look at the history of anesthesia. (even if you’re not an anesthesiologist…) Think about it, the first clinical use of general anesthesia in the surgical arena was just over 150 years ago. This is an amusing and educational look at the history of what is arguably the most important medical advancement in the history of mankind. This book will interest anyone who has ever had surgery, plans to have surgery, has an interest in medicine or history, or just likes to know stuff.

  • Paul
    2019-03-18 13:58

    I really liked how the author was able to take the facts from history and make it a very readable and almost fiction like story. I really enjoyed reading the book as well as gaining that knowledge in this way. I felt near the end it got repetitive and boring but that was partly because of how the men's lives ended.

  • Kay
    2019-03-17 12:53

    Fairly interesting -- a tangled tale about three men, all of whom claimed the invention of ether. The book interweaves the tale of the three men with information on surgical procedures of the time. Needless to say, the development of anesthesia was an incredible boon. I'd have preferred more medical information, however, than biographical information.

  • Meg Marlowe
    2019-02-26 12:32

    One of the BEST books I ever read! Julie M Fenster also scored big with Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President. Just such riveting writing. This is a just a little masterpiece though: while learning history, we also delve into the human psyche, it's dark penchants and addictions. Just fabulous!

  • Trisha
    2019-02-28 10:57

    Having read about 30ish books for my Writing class about the discovery of anesthesia, this has to be one of the most interesting out of them all. Even for someone who isn't interested in science, dentistry, etc., I think this book would still be compelling.

  • Michelle Mclain
    2019-02-23 13:32

    "Whenever it is that self-abandonment is no longer natural but must be induced, childhood ends..." -referring to Ether parties held commonly in the early 1800s.

  • Kayla
    2019-03-05 12:53

    interesting read...especially if you have just come out of surgery:)

  • Dennis Ross
    2019-03-19 11:46

    Fascinating history of anesthesia; a selection for my science book club Oct 2012.

  • Lo
    2019-02-27 15:56

    Everything I expected, but so much more.

  • Stanley Costkow
    2019-03-18 17:33

    This is an interesting and informative read.

  • Niki
    2019-03-04 18:37

    Heard about this from Radiolab. An interesting medical, historical and sociological tale.

  • Joette
    2019-02-22 11:45

    This was absolutely fascinating. Kids had ether parties, not drinking parties.

  • Adrianne
    2019-02-28 14:53

    Entertaining! Not as dry as I thought it'd be.

  • dejah_thoris
    2019-03-19 13:45

    The strange but wonderful story of how ether began the revolution of anesthesia in medicine. Thank goodness dentists were willing to try it! A great controversy surrounded who developed it too. Definitely an interesting but approachable read.

  • Keli
    2019-03-07 15:39

    I first heard about this book on NPR in 2001. The story was fascinating, a conman dentist made one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern medical science and no one has heard of him. Plus, there's this endless feud between the various men who claim the discovery and its effects on the establishment, in both science and class, and the monetization of medicine. The sell was great. I remembered the author's name for weeks before I bought the book, where once purchased it sat on a shelf for years. It moved with me from Texas to South Dakota to London. I've meant to read this book for 15 years! Though it was very interesting and it had me laughing, well snorting, out loud, it wasn't a breezy read.I'm not sure if it was the writing style or the references but something just didn't click.