Studies estimate that 234 million surgical procedures requiring anaesthesia are performed worldwide every year. ‘Suspended animation: concepts of anaesthesia’ looks at the state of being under anaesthetic, distinguishes between general anaesthesia and sleep, and charts a history of the use of different types of anaesthesia for surgical procedures. Anaesthesia is the largest hospital speciality in the UK. Why is it that most non-medical people have only a vague idea of what anaesthesia involves? The anaesthetist is portrayed as a minor player in the surgical procedure, and as a person of mystery. What is pain? How does the anaesthetist understand pain?