Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People

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9780060090661: Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People

The first full biography of Nicholas Culpeper, the English seventeenth-century pioneer of herbal medicine whose actions and beliefs revolutionized medicine and medical practice

In the mid-seventeenth century, England was visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a civil war that saw levels of slaughter not matched until the Somme; famine in a succession of failed harvests that reduced peasants to "anatomies"; epidemics to rival the Black Death; and infant mortality rates that emptied crowded households of their children. In the midst of these terrible times came Nicholas Culpeper's Herbal -- one of the most popular and enduring books ever published.

Culpeper was a virtual outcast from birth. Rebelling against a tyrannical grandfather and the prospect of a life in the Church, he abandoned his university education after a doomed attempt at elopement. Disinherited, he went to London, Milton's "city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty." There he was to find his vocation as an herbalist -- and as a revolutionary.

London's medical regime was then in the grip of the College of Physicians, a powerful body personified in the "immortal" William Harvey, anatomist, royal physician and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Working in the underground world of religious sects, secret printing presses and unlicensed apothecary shops, Culpeper challenged this stronghold at the time it was reaching the very pinnacle of its power -- and in the process became part of the revolution that toppled a monarchy.

In a spellbinding narrative of impulse, romance and heroism, Benjamin Woolley vividly re-creates these momentous struggles and the roots of today's hopes and fears about the power of medical science, professional institutions and government. Heal Thyself tells the story of a medical rebel who took on the authorities and paid the price.

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About the Author:

Benjamin Woolley is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He is the author of the best-selling The Queen's Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr. John Dee and Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Civil War for the Heart of Medicine in Seventeenth-Century England. His first book, Virtual Worlds, was short-listed for the Rhône-Poulenc Prize and has been translated into eight languages. His second work, The Bride of Science, examined the life of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter. He has written and presented documentaries for the BBC on subjects ranging from the fight for liberty during the English Civil War to the end of the Space Age. He has won the Arts Journalist of the Year Award and an Emmy for his commentary for Discovery's Three Minutes to Impact. He lives in London.

From Publishers Weekly:

Ostensibly a biography of Culpeper, who first translated Latin medical works into English in the 17th century, this book goes well beyond the life of one individual to document the transformation of medicine during one of the most traumatic periods in English history. Culpeper is best known today for Culpeper's Complete Herbal, a comprehensive listing of English medicinal herbs along with directions on their use. Still in print after more than 350 years, the Herbal is, in Woolley's words, "one of the most popular and enduring books in publishing history, perhaps the non-religious book in English to remain longest in continuous print." Emmy-winning British journalist Woolley (The Queen's Conjurer) does a wonderful job of situating Culpeper (1616–1654) within the English civil war of the era. As he demonstrates, the politics associated with the creation of the medical profession were every bit as important as the science underlying specific treatments. Culpeper's lower-class, populist roots and sentiments are contrasted with those of William Harvey, a royalist and one of England's greatest scientists. As a member of the medical establishment, Harvey helped keep medical knowledge from the common people while Culpeper fought to do just the opposite. The book is enjoyable on many levels and in a time preoccupied with empowering patients and making information available on the Internet, this tale has particular resonance. 25 b&w illus.
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