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Penguin Canada Fall 2022

Lifesavers and Body Snatchers
Medical Care and the Struggle for Survival in the Great War
By (author): Tim Cook
Tim Cook


Allen Lane



Product Form:



General / adult
Sep 13, 2022
$36.95 CAD


9.27in x 6.31 x 1.68 in | 1.7 lb

Page Count:

552 pages


Penguin Canada
Allen Lane
HISTORY / Military / Canada
Templer Medal Book Prize 2022, Short-listed

From Canada’s top war historian, a definitive medical history of the Great War, illuminating how the carnage of modern battle gave birth to revolutionary life-saving innovations. It brings to light shocking revelations of the ways the brutality of combat and the necessity of agonizing battlefield decisions led to unimaginable strain for men and women of medicine who fought to save the lives of soldiers.

Medical care in almost all armies during the Great War, and especially in the Canadian medical services, was sophisticated and constantly evolving. Vastly more wounded soldiers were saved than lost. Doctors and surgeons prevented disease from decimating armies, confronted ghastly wounds from chemical weap-ons, remade shattered bodies, and struggled to ease soldiers’ battle-haunted minds. After the war, the hard lessons learned by doctors and nurses were brought back to Canada. A new Department of Health created guidelines in the aftermath of the 1918–1919 influ-enza pandemic, which had killed 55,000 Canadians and millions around the world. In a grim irony, the fight to improve civilian health was furthered by the most destructive war up to that point in human history.

But medical advances were not the only thing brought back from Europe: Lifesavers and Body Snatchers exposes the disturbing story of the harvesting of human body parts in medical units behind the lines. Tim Cook has spent over a decade investigating the history of Canadian medical doctors removing the body parts of slain soldiers and transporting their brains, lungs, bones, and other organs to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in London, England. Almost 800 individual body parts were removed from the dead and sent to London, where they were stored, treated, and presented in exhibition galleries. After being exhibited there, the body parts were displayed in Canada. This uncovered history has never been told before and is part of the hidden legacy of the medical war.

Based on deep archival research and unpublished letters of soldiers and medical personnel, Lifesavers and Body Snatchers is a powerful narrative, told in Cook’s literary style, which reveals how the medical services supported the soldiers at the front and forged a profound legacy in shaping Canadian public health in the decades that followed.

    TIMELY: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Canadians to think more deeply about public health, and the sacrifices of those serving on the front lines. Numerous themes from the Great War still resonate in contemporary Canada: the public debate over vaccines, PTSD, aiding refugees in the war zone, the 1918-19 flu pandemic, mental illness, and suicides among veterans.

    SHOCKING REVELATIONS: Tim’s in-depth research uncovers a hidden history in which Canadian doctors harvested body parts from slain Canadian soldiers and shipped  them to London’s Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) for research purposes and, astoundingly, for public display in both England and Canada. This story has never been told in a modern publication.

    ESTABLISHED AUTHOR: Tim has published eight books between 2007 and 2020; he is one of our most prolific authors and has an established fan base. The Fight for History is currently on the Canadian bestseller list.

TIM COOK is Chief Historian and Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum. His bestselling books have won multiple awards, including three Ottawa Book prizes for Literary Non-Fiction and two C.P. Stacey Awards for the best book in Canadian military history. In 2008 he won the J.W. Dafoe Prize for At the Sharp End and again in 2018 for Vimy: The Battle and the Legend. Shock Troops won the 2009 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. Cook is a frequent commentator in the media, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Order of Canada.

Author Residence: Ottawa, ON

Author Hometown: Kingston, ON


One of: 
The Globe and Mail’s “64 books to keep you warm as the weather cools”
The Toronto Star’s “5 books for a Remembrance Day reading list”

Praise for Lifesavers and Body Snatchers:

“[S]hocking….  [H]eartbreaking….”
—Ottawa Citizen

“Cook has an unrivaled mastery of the archival sources and reveals [in Lifesavers and Body Snatchers] for the first time the program of harvesting body parts from fallen soldiers for medical study.”
—Toronto Star

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