Jeffrey Frentzen

With the approach of winter and the holiday season, we all want to or will reach out to our families and friends and carry out our various social obligations. Yet, even as the Christmas season brings us together, during the most hectic time we are wise to carve out time in solitude, to reflect on our year, reaffirm our ties to those in our lives, and rededicate ourselves to continuing education.

The sort of continuing education I mean is the solitary pursuit and joy of book reading. Scientific meetings and conferences are well and good, but a lot of what you hear and see at a meeting has most likely appeared somewhere in print first.

As someone prone to making lists, I have kept a short list of plastic and cosmetic surgery- and dermatology-related titles that I’ve either read and recommend to you or have been recommended to me but are too technical for me to digest. One or more of them might be just what you were wanting to sit down with and spend some seasonal time learning what colleagues already know.

Recently, I delved briefly into the history of plastic surgery, as rich and entertaining a trip through the centuries as I can think of. The range of quality history books on this subject overwhelmed me at first, but with time I settled on the following tomes. (Beware—some of these tomes may keep you occupied well past the holidays.)

Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), by Elizabeth Haiken, an assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee, provides a fascinating account of how the techniques of cosmetic surgery developed from the turn of the century to the present.

This is a provocative book that attempts to explain how we arrived in 2011 in a culture that trumpets plastic surgery as a panacea for addressing bigger problems in both society at large and among individuals.

Haikin traces the growth of aesthetic medicine from early days, paying close attention to the conflicts between physicians wanting to perform surgery only for medical reasons and patients who want to alter their appearance as they see fit. Haikin illustrates the social, ethnic, psychological, and economic concerns that have contributed to cosmetic surgery’s popularity.

Haikin notes how consumers have gained control over the marketplace in recent years, and that they act without much regard for the usual standards of medical necessity. As for the physicians, Haikin relates tales of how physicians continued using silicone on patients even after they knew the stuff was deadly. On these points, many plastic surgeons may grow impatient with Haikin’s scholarly work, which at times shows their profession in a harsh light and is also somewhat overwritten in the manner of academic pieces.

Here to Stay: A Brief History of the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Thieme, 2006), by T. Susan Hill and Robert L. Simons, MD, illustrates the history of the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and was written from the inside looking out by people who were involved in the events and battles that created a certifying board for facial plastic surgeons. Nearly all societies in this field are filled with tales of internecine warfare and their own defining events. This one offers more detail and tales of intrigue than even those who were there might want to recall.

A History of Plastic Surgery (Springer, 2007), by Paolo Santoni-Rugiu and Philip J. Sykes—This major work covers the history of plastic surgery from ancient civilizations (such as Egypt and India) to the present. It covers the evolution of the actual procedures, unlike the Haikin book, which is a treatise on the socio-psychological aspects of that history.