Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them

A revelatory, poetic exploration of swallowing—and of a strange collection of objects preserved by a single-minded medical pioneer

“Each of us has at least one formative swallow, one out-of-the-ordinary episode at the threshold of the mouth that made us who we are.” —from Swallow

In this fascinating and lyrical book, the seemingly disparate but equally marvelous worlds of the circus and the medical amphitheater meet in characters ranging from the sword swallowers and women who lunched on hardware to the sensitive, bullied boy who grew up to be the father of endoscopy. The Mütter Museum’s Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection, a cabinet filled with thousands of items that have been swallowed or inhaled, then extracted nonsurgically by a pioneering laryngologist using rigid instruments of his own design, sets the stage for award-winning author Mary Cappello’s moving investigative portrait of Dr. Chevalier Jackson (1865–1958), his cosmology of objects, and the lives he saved.

Its own uncanny, deeply rewarding assemblage, Swallow brings together the complex physiology of the human swallow and the menace of a button box; a willed ingestion of non-nutritive things that is little understood and a social history of hunger; the humanitarian mission that bred the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927 and a crusade to make the world “foreign body conscious.”

For more about Swallow, see www.swallowthebook.com


Swallow is a wonderful, intriguing book, a fascinating glimpse into a true medical pioneer and a life’s work. Mary Cappello delves into what it means to ingest things we weren’t meant to eat, and how the line between our bodies and foreign bodies can sometimes blur. Every object tells a story, and the stories here are marvelous.”
—Colin Dickey, author of Crankiolepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius
“I was astonished and delighted—grabbed by the throat, indeed—by this most remarkable book, which took me down a thousand little red lanes, and laid out in excruciating and fascinating detail all those myriad of items—corks to safety pins to draughts of lye and three-foot swords—that have managed to pass down there too. It is a wonderful and bizarre book: gorge yourself on it, and gulp.”
—Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean
“[Cappello] packs her story with surprising imagery and extravagant lyricism, taking a highly literary approach on the subject.”
Swallow is a surprising and original work. It is biography on the slant, a meditation that transcends boundaries and genres, written with scholarship, humor, and panache. I urge you to take this journey.”
—Ricky Jay
“Cappello . . . brings a psychoanalytic richness to her understanding of ingestion and dentition.”
The Guardian
“A warm and thoroughly researched portrait.”
The Washington Post
“One odd, and oddly haunting, book.”

Goodreads Reviews