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Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine Hardcover – May 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition (US) edition (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393037622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393037623
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.7 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

For insatiable appetites, Porter wrote "The Greatest Benefit to Mankind." For the rest of us, there's this little gem. --Bill Eichenberger" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Roy Porter was until his retirement Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. The last book Enlightenment won a 2001 Wolfson Prize. Roy Porter died March 3rd 2002. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Nov. 2003
Format: Paperback
In a sense this is a "lite" version of the late Roy Porter's well-received history of medicine from 1997, entitled The Greatest Benefit to Mankind. He is also the editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine (1996) and was until his death professor of social history at University College London.
But let's face it, the history of medicine has not been a pretty story, nor could it have been. Most of history's physicians were flailing about in the dark, the surgeons as sawbones and barbers performing crude amputations and such without the aid of either anaesthetics or disinfectants, the practitioners as faith healers and quacks, dispensing placebos or poisons often without knowing which was which. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the medical profession began to achieve some understanding of the real causes of illness and indeed understand how living things work and how and why they don't work. Porter recalls some of the controversies about the vivisection of cadavers, and arguments about the causes of infectious disease: an argument made difficult because of course the microbes could not be discerned until about the time of Pasteur.
Porter outlines this sobering story from the time of the Greeks to the present day in an objective and easily assimilated style. He organizes the material into eight chapters focusing on Disease, Doctors, The Body, The Laboratory, Therapies, Surgery, The Hospital, and Medicine in Modern Society. Along the way he delves into the politics (some sexual) and into the sociology of medicine around the globe. There are suggestions for Further Reading and an Index.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By thetetchytechie on 25 April 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book does not have lots of blood and guts in it. What it does have is a series of linked episodes that together describe the history behind many medical practises still in use today.
The story the book is trying to put across relates to societies attitude to medicine and surgery as well as the treatments that went with them.
It shows that in many ways society is just as prudish as it was hundreds of years ago in how it feels about medical practise.
The book can be read in sections to cover each turn of the medical establishment in line with social prejudice.
An easy read, and a book that can be dipped into a chapter or to at a time for bedtime reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mike Watkinson TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 April 2014
Format: Paperback
This seems to me a decent overview of the history of medicine, tackled from successive angles - disease, doctors, the body, and so on. Of necessity, being only a couple hundred of pages, it covers a lot of ground very quickly (amusingly, one of the sources is "A Scandalously Short History of Medicine", which is more than twice as long!), and its origin in medical lectures at the Wellcome Trust Centre is quite obvious from the way it is written.

Whether or not you're in the medical profession (I'm not), it's nevertheless engagingly written & informative. The author does make one unsupported & highly questionable assertion early on. Since hunter-gatherer & nomadic societies have continued to survive through to the present day, often alongside settled agricultural ones, I can't agree that agriculture was invented because of incipient starvation, particularly since it could not have happened anything like quickly enough. Rather, the gradual development of agricultural techniques created the conditions for a population explosion that continues to this day.

On the other hand, for that reason, I think he's absolutely spot on when he cites the rise of civilisation and of ever-increasing settlement as providing the conditions & the reservoir of hosts that allowed disease to flourish. It's this sort of linking causes & effects that is one of the strengths of the book. It's also well-illustrated, with a generous 38 woodcuts, Punch cartoons, etc, in its relatively few pages. It's hardly a must have book, whatever your interest in the subject, but it's certainly an entertaining introduction to the subject even if, like me, you're likely to delve no deeper!
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By Anne TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Mar. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a brief and well written exploration of the history of medicine. It starts well and contains lots of interesting information but by about two thirds of the way through the limitations of the size of the book in comparison with the possible subject matter becomes apparent.

The author is not just attempting to talk about the different ways in which treatments have been applied to the human body but he also considers how medicine is viewed philosophically and also socially. I thought a lot of this was interesting and I understood that if I wanted to know more I would need to look at a more in depth study (there is an excellent bibliography at the end of the book for just this purpose). As he gets into the modern era, however, there is too much that he cannot consider in detail such as very modern treatments, different ways of funding healthcare, the rise of alternative medicine and the medicalisation of things such as childbirth. He attempts some of these but might perhaps have been better not to have done because there isn't the room to give these even a brief overview that justified including them - my copy of this book has only 169 pages of text.

There was also one amazing omission in that he never considers attitudes to mental health in the book at all - changing attitudes to this would make an interesting contrast with the changes in physical health and the two are so intertwined that it doesn't really make sense to exclude it.

The early part of this book when the author discussed early medicine and how that works in European society (he excludes other areas of the world) is excellent but the book doesn't have space to include everything it should and what it does include is often truncated to such a degree that it is not really good enough even in such a short book.
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