Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

ISBN 13: 9780199248131

Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

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9780199248131: Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

From ancient religious rituals and magical incantations, to Renaissance practices such as purging, bleeding, and trepanning, to modern day miracles such as antibiotics, CAT scans, and organ transplants, the advance of Western medicine has been nothing short of astonishing. This richly illustrated volume provides a wide-ranging history of Western medicine, charting the great milestones of medical progress--from the birth of rational medicine in the classical world right up to the present day.

The history begins in ancient Greece, where medical practice, under the auspices of Hippocrates and others, first looked past supernatural explanations and began to understand disease as a product of natural causes. It chronicles the slow growth of medical knowledge through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, illuminating the work of figures such as Paracelsus, Vesalius, and William Harvey (who explained how blood circulates through the body). And it provides portraits of more modern figures like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch (the fathers of bacteriology), Wilhelm Roentgen (the discoverer of x-rays), and Paul Ehrlich (who pioneered the use of chemicals to destroy disease-causing organisms).

Authoritative, informative, and beautifully designed, this volume offers a truly fascinating introduction to medicine in the West.

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About the Author:


Irving Loudon was formerly a General Practitioner and a Research Fellow of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford.

From The New England Journal of Medicine:

This beautifully produced book has two purposes. The first is to answer the question posed by the editor, Irvine Loudon, who is both a medical historian and an artist: "What is medical history, and who are medical historians?" Here are 19 diverse essays on the history of medicine, each by a different historian; many of the contributors are from the United Kingdom. The book stands as a showcase of what medical historians are doing in the 1990s, and how they do it. Loudon does not attempt to be encyclopedic. The essays are broad, thoughtful, lively, and written for the general (educated) reader, and they are of uniformly high quality. Seven essays take us from medicine in the classical world to medicine in later centuries in Europe and Islam, and on to medicine at the end of the 20th century. Eleven essays focus on specific topics, such as childbirth, the mind, and the spread of Western medicine. The book succeeds in demonstrating both the richness of medical history as a field in the 1990s and the centrality of health and medicine in the history of Western culture.

The second purpose of the book is skillfully explored in the first essay, by Martin Kemp, a professor of art at Oxford University and a specialist in scientific visual representation. Kemp makes a compelling case for the deeper integration of visual images into the history of medicine, arguing that there is nothing obvious about the images we make and those we have inherited. This book is intended to be an illustrated history in the sense that the reader is expected to learn from the images as much as from the text. The 180 illustrations in the book make a strong case for the importance of visual images in understanding how medicine works; what it is; how it is viewed by patrons, patients, and practitioners; and what part it plays in culture at different times and in different places.

This emphasis gives the reader unexpected pleasures and often a sense of immediacy -- of making the past concrete -- that cannot be provided by text alone. For example, a charming map of the medical school at the University of Montpellier in the 16th century shows how easy it was for medical students to walk to the St. Denis cemetery to find bodies for dissection, making Lisa Rosner's points about instruction in anatomy real and vivid and provoking the reader to wonder which route the students took. Full-color, glossy reproductions of manuscript illustrations accompanying Michael McVaugh's essay on medicine in the Middle Ages give this period a similar immediacy: pictures of an operation for cataract, examination of a wounded patient, and (in a 15th-century manuscript of Avicenna's work) a physician at a walk-in clinic. Picasso's painting on the death of his sister puts the patient squarely between the representative of medicine and that of religion, underlining Anne Digby's study of the patient's view. Jane Lewis's essay on politics and the state includes an advertisement of the benefits of the British national health insurance scheme, introduced in 1911. Anne Summers's fresh look at the history of nursing before and after Florence Nightingale includes stunning photographs: two cheerful, liberated nurses in full uniform pose for the camera smoking cigarettes, presumably during World War I (the images are not always adequately labeled).

This is a book to dip into, savor, and contemplate. Were it not for its high price (presumably reflecting the cost of high-quality reproductions), the book would be a good source for teaching medical humanities or medicine in a cultural context. I came away from my reading thinking how mysterious medicine has always been, and how difficult; how medicine and religion have been woven together consistently, arguably to the present; and how humans behave consistently (dreadfully) in epidemics.

Reviewed by Rosemary A. Stevens, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

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