The Sawbones Book: The Hilarious, Horrifying Road to Modern Medicine

Since 2013, Justin and Sydnee McElroy have worked together on their podcast, Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine on the Maximum Fun network. I’ve been listening to the show pretty much religiously for a couple of years now, and I find it to be a lighthearted and digestible way to satiate my curiosity about history and the human body while appealing to my morbid fascinations at the same time. In 2018, with the help of Sydnee’s sister Teylor Smirl, The Sawbones Book hit the shelves.

For those not familiar with Sawbones, the premise is pretty simple. Sydnee McElroy is a family practice doctor in Huntington, West Virginia. Her husband, Justin McElroy, is not a medical professional in any way. They discuss different aspects of medical history from both a professional and layperson’s perspective. Sydnee McElroy once said that their fans enjoy “the yuckier things in life” and she couldn’t be more on the money. Sawbones discusses how, before we really knew how science worked, people would try basically anything to try to cure disease and injury.

The concept behind Sawbones translated well into a book. Teylor Smirl’s illustrations make the work visually interesting, and there are some sidebars in which Justin and Sydnee add additional information and opinions on the current topic. I really like Smirl’s art style, even if her rendition of her brother-in-law looks a little bit like Leisure Suit Larry.

As a longtime fan of Sawbones, I definitely felt like I got a lot out of the book, but it’s accessible to those that haven’t listened to the show either. In fact, the McElroys manage to make this information accessible to everybody, not just those in the medical field. As a layperson myself, I never felt lost or overwhelmed, and even as somebody that has listened to every episode of Sawbones (and is listening to Sawbones as I write this post), I still learned something new.

That being said, there is an issue with The Sawbones Book that I found deeply disappointing. The book is among the most poorly edited of those I have read. I’ve found typographical errors, missing or repeated words, misspellings, a skip in page numbers, and even what looked like placeholder text that wasn’t changed before editing. I can’t believe that these made it to print, and it reflects extremely poorly on the authors, editor, and publisher. This book retails for $25 US and I think for that price the reader can at least expect that the book is properly edited.

The poor editing was disappointing to say the least, but the book was still enjoyable. If you feel you can overlook those sorts of errors, then it’s a visually interesting book about the grosser side of medicine. If you can’t, then as much as I would love to give this book every bit of praise possible, it may not be for you.