The most surprising organ in the body. Man, that thing is huge! You really don't realize just how huge it is until you see it in its natural state in the abdominal cavity with the other organs. The stomach is nothing compared to this baby! What with the medial lobes and the lateral lobes and the gallbladder attached at the top, it really takes over! I always pictured it as such a puny little thing...cute, almost. I can tell you this much; I will never take my liver for granted again.

The Human Liver

The liver is an internal organ which lies in the abdominal cavity of the body of animals. In humans, it is the largest glandular organ of the body, and generally weighs about 3 lb (1.35 kg).

Physically, the liver looks like a large reddish brown lump which is divided into four unequal lobes. Liver tissue is made up of hepatic cells (hepatic is an adjective denoting something concerned with the liver) which are grouped into lobules; each lobule is served by a capillary which is a minute subdivision of the two large vessels which supply the liver with blood: the hepatic artery which brings blood full of oxygen from the aorta; and the portal vein, which brings blood full of digested food from the small intestine.

From its strategic location between the gut and the rest of the body, the liver plays many important roles in the body, which can be grouped into three broad areas:

Liver disease encompasses a wide range of conditions. The most common are hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that can have chronic effects, and cirrhosis, a chronic progressive inflammation that leads ultimately to liver failure. In addition, long term alcohol abuse can negatively impact the liver. There are also rarer genetic disorders that harm the liver, including hemochromatosis, Wilson's disease, and cystic fybrosis.

The first liver transplant was performed in 1963, and today the operation has become common, with the majority of patients surviving the dangerous first year. In 1994 a bioartificial liver, part cloned liver cells, part machine, was used; it's kind of like a kidney dialysis machine, and can support patients with liver failure who are waiting for transplants. In addition, a liver can regenerate, and up to 75% of it can be safely removed and will grow back again. This procedure, called liver resection, provides a way to cure patients with tumors of the liver.

The Metaphoric Liver

The liver has long been seen as an important organ of emotion and even thought. The Greek philosopher Galen, whose second century ideas remained the basis for western medical thinking till the seventeenth century, viewed the liver as the seat of the vegetative soul, an ancient plant-based soul which was retained by higher beings. The liver, he thought, received food and converted it to natural spirits, which it then sent to the heart, from whence it reached the rest of the body.

Shakespeare saw the liver as a seat of bitter anger and bile. Old English used the adjective liverish to refer to a crabby or grouchy person, based on the belief that the liver could produce an excess of bile, giving someone a reddish complection and peevish manner.

The Edible Liver

People have long eaten liver from cows or calves, pigs, lambs, chickens, and geese; livers from younger animals will tend to be more healthy, because the livers of older animals have had much longer to accumulate nasty chemicals, hormones, and medicines that the animal might have been fed. In addition, liver from younger animals will be paler in colour, with a milder flavour and odour and more tender texture than the liver of adult animals.

Goose liver is the most expensive of the edible livers; it's usually known by the swishy French name foie gras, and, though delicious, the ways that geese are fattened and slaughtered can be reprehensible. *Sigh*

Liver should be cooked quickly, for example by lightly sauteing; cooking longer tends to toughen it. Liver is rich in iron, protein, and vitamins A and B.

Ode to the Liver

fragment of a poem by Pablo Neruda, translated by Oriana Josseau Kalant

I sing to you
and I fear you
as though you were the judge
implacable indicator,
and if I can not
surrender myself in shackles to austerity,
in the surfeit of
or the hereditary wine of my country
to disturb my health
or the equilibrium of my poetry,
from you
dark monarch,
giver of syrups and of poisons,
regulator of salts,
from you I hope for justice;
I love life: Do not betray me! Work on!
Do not arrest my song.

It is a common opinion among those in the medical profession who regularly pump powerful and unpleasant pharmaceutical molecules into the bloodstreams of hapless patients that the liver can, and should, be trained. This was brought to light yesterday when my father, a tall, lanky, 55 year old haematologist who has been drinking a bottle of wine with dinner every night for at least the last 25 years, recovered completely from a several hour long general anaesthetic with not so much as slight wooziness in about thirty minutes. Over the course of lunch, he meditated on the skill and vigour of his by now well trained, almost commando liver, that had taken all a skillful anaesthesiologist could throw at it and metabolised the lot without breaking a sweat.

It is apparently a common observation that ammong cancer patients recieving chemotherapy, those who never or infrequently drink do not react well. The nasty oncologist sticks a bunch of big, scary organic molecules in their bloodstream, their liver takes one look, screams, and runs for the nearest bunker, too green and inexperienced to tackle the threat. Hence the unfortunate patients spend their treatment regurgitating their GI tract on a regular basis, as their organ systems are crushed underfoot by all that nasty chemo.

Regular boozers, on the other hand, remain robust and apprently healthy throught. As soon as the drugs hit the blood, the liver thinks "Huh? What is this shit? Man, this is nothing compared to that party back at uni where I metabolised (a very large number) of (glasses of some highly concentrated ethanol/water mixture)! These punks think they're tough and scary? I'll kick some ass! HOOOARR!" and so forth. Next thing you know, a few mgs of intereferon has been happily metabolised, and the liver sits back, cleans out its guns, and sends of the signal that the by-products of some lunch would be appreciated down here, thankyou very much, so much for this chemotherapy metabolizing shit, how about synthesising some glycogen like i'm supposed to do?

So, there you have it. There's a one in three chance you'll get some sort of cancer, make sure that when you get it, you have a crack liver, trained and ready to go. Pass me the wine!

ISBN 978-1-59691-664-7
At that time these redbrick warrens had been overrun by punks, who lolloped furtively along their balconies, halting in the stairwells to nibble amphetamines, their soap stiffened mohicans twitching like rabbit ears.

Published in 2008 by Bloosmbury,  Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes was written by the English author Will Self. A most curious book. Late 20th century London, compassion, wit and livers in distress sums it up pretty well.

The copy that I read was a first US edition, the copyright page of which did not specify whether the work was a collection of stories or a novel. Not until the last section did I begin to suspect that I was in fact consuming a  novel. The reason why for this is the narration— you'll have to read it for yourself to see what I mean, as I am not about to spoil things for you here.

The first part deals with the occupants of a private drinking club in a seedy part of London and is rife with cockney dialect. The second is a more loving, serious and sad tale of an old woman of strong faith who leaves London to be euthanized in Zurich after learning that her liver cancer is terminal. The third is the most baroque and hilarious as it places the legend of Prometheus and Zeus and Pandora et al in the context of a modern London advertising agency. The fourth part deals with junkies waiting to make their daily score—it crosses over from droll to absurd to sad and back more times than I could count.

I really enjoyed this book. It sent me to the dictionary a few times. It made me laugh out loud. But mostly it made me wonder about how much control we humans have on our own lives and how we allow that control to erode. It would have been nice to have at least one happy liver in the lot but that seems not to have been the aim of Mr. Self.

Don't read this book if you dislike reading about casual liver abuse. Or the repeated use of the word "cunt" to mean bloke.


Liv"er (?), n.


One who, or that which, lives.

And try if life be worth the liver's care. Prior.


A resident; a dweller; as, a liver in Brooklyn.


One whose course of life has some marked characteristic (expressed by an adjective); as, a free liver.

Fast liver, one who lives in an extravagant and dissipated way. -- Free liver, Good liver, one given to the pleasures of the table. -- Loose liver, a person who lives a somewhat dissolute life.


© Webster 1913.

Liv"er, n. [AS. lifer; akin to D. liver, G. leber, OHG. lebara, Icel. lifr, Sw. lefver, and perh. to Gr. fat, E. live, v.] Anat.

A very large glandular and vascular organ in the visceral cavity of all vertebrates.

Most of the venous blood from the alimentary canal passes through it on its way back to the heart; and it secretes the bile, produces glycogen, and in other ways changes the blood which passes through it. In man it is situated immediately beneath the diaphragm and mainly on the right side. See Bile, Digestive, and Glycogen. The liver of invertebrate animals is usually made up of caecal tubes, and differs materially, in form and function, from that of vertebrates.

Floating liver. See Wandering liver, under Wandering. -- Liver of antimony, Liver of sulphur. Old Chem. See Hepar. -- Liver brown, Liver color, the color of liver, a dark, reddish brown. -- Liver shark Zool., a very large shark (Cetorhinus maximus), inhabiting the northern coasts both of Europe and North America. It sometimes becomes forty feet in length, being one of the largest sharks known; but it has small simple teeth, and is not dangerous. It is captured for the sake of its liver, which often yields several barrels of oil. It has gill rakers, resembling whalebone, by means of which it separates small animals from the sea water. Called also basking shark, bone shark, hoemother, homer, and sailfish<-- sometimes referred to as 'whale shark', but that name is more commonly used for the Rhincodon typus, which grows even larger -->. -- Liver spots, yellowish brown patches or spots of chloasma.


© Webster 1913.

Liv"er (?), n. Zool.

The glossy ibis (Ibis falcinellus); -- said to have given its name to the city of Liverpool.


© Webster 1913.

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