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Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine's Beautiful Idea, and our Difficulty Swallowing It

Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine's Beautiful Idea, and our Difficulty Swallowing It [Kindle Edition]

Druin Burch
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Product Description


`Druin Birch makes a compelling case.' -- Sunday Telegraph

"Burch leads us through an array of shocking and surprising medical practices." -- FT

"Taking the Medicine is a wise book as well as an entertaining one." -- The Tablet

`Each chapter... is a self-contained pleasure to read, like mini-fables on the perils of medicine'
-- Sunday Times


`Druin Birch makes a compelling case.'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 562 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (15 Jan 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0031RDWM2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #158,514 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
I picked this up and started reading it by chance in a bookshop because it has a good cover (shallow, moi?). I had to buy it - this is a really good book, and strikes a great balance between entertainment and informing. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to get into medical school, and would give any aspiring doctor great fodder for interviews.

I don't really like medical history but this is a collection of the important and interesting bits of the history of medicine put into a very readable and entertaining format. Without understanding what medicine has gone through, it is impossible to understand where we are now, and the dangers we face from ourselves and others who try to make medicine move in various directions for their own good.

By far the best book about medicine I have read, in style and content, I have given several copies to friends, who have also enjoyed it. Great summer reading, as the stories come in very well written bite sized chunks.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely history of evidence-based medicine 31 Aug 2009
I was sent this book in advance of sharing a platform with Druin at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This was fortunate, because I might have missed it otherwise. It is a riveting history of medicine, focusing on how the doctors have gradually learned to recognize which treatments are effective and which are not. He shows that many of the remedies used by the medical profession in the past caused more harm than good, and that this can even happen today in the absence of good data from randomized controlled trials. Perhaps his most important message is that raw clinical intuition is absolutely useless as a guide to treatment effectiveness, a message that some doctors still find difficult to swallow (as I recently discovered from intemperate defenders of ECT when I tried to publish a review showing that there is almost no evidence that this treatment is useful). For this reason, I would recommend it to all medical students and indeed anyone interested in modern health care.

The style is light and accessible. There are lots of nice anecdotes and some good potted biography (particularly of Archie Cochrane, a man whose impact on modern medicine has been enormous but who is hardly known outside medical circles). A great read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, rather worrying and very enlightening! 21 Mar 2011
This is an extremely well written history of medicine that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has ever received, or is likely to receive, treatment from a member of the medical profession, which I suspect would include the vast majority of us. Until I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged 49 I had had very little contact with the medical profession, apart from as a consequence of the odd broken limb and childhood illness, so really hadn't formed much of an opinion of them other than seeing them as highly qualified (and highly paid) individuals who must know what they are doing. It seems that, until very recently at least, I would have been very wrong in that assumption!

Throughout history, I have learned from this excellent book, the vast majority of medical interventions either did no good, or even worse actually caused harm - despite the honesty and sincerity of the doctors involved. In fact, until a couple of hundred years ago there were only two drugs that were actually known to have an definite and measurable effect on human ailments -opium and quinine. Many of our modern drugs originated in the colour dye factories of Germany in the late 19th century, bleeding patients as a cure persisted well into the 20th century, and even as recently as the early 1960s less than 10% of treatments given by doctors were actually known to provide benefit!

Druin builds up the picture of physicians throughout the ages relying on intuition backed up by self-belief in administering all manner of dreadful treatments to the unfortunate sick, without any true knowledge that their methods would do any good for the patient at all - in fact, in most cases making things far worse.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable history of medicine. 10 July 2011
I really enjoyed reading this book. A history of medicine and an explanation of how the double-blind randomised controlled trial helped to create scientific evidence-based medicine. He weaves the two tales together expertly. Some wonderful anecdotes are also included, including some of the heroes and villains of medicine in the last 200 years. The story about Archie Cochrane brought tears to my eyes. That guy is a legend. This book follows the template of all the best popular science books I have read, mixing scientific theory with riveting story-telling. Highly recommended!!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all patients 31 Mar 2009
This was a riveting read - I was sorry to finish it. I takes you through all the mistakes and wanderings medicine has gone through before arriving at today with emphasis on the characters of the doctors as well as their search for the perfect cure. Makes a good adventure story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 2 May 2013
By Janjo
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I embarked upon this book, not as a medical person, but rather as a general reader with an interest in social history. I found it absolutely fascinating and it held my interest right through to the last page.
Drink Burch writes well and seriously, but he is never boring in this logical discourse. With the evidence he presents of medical incompetence it is amazing that so many of us have survived to tell the tale. It is also quite shocking how recently proper clinical trials have been accepted as the proper way forward.
An excellent and eye opening read.
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Popular Highlights

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The moral is that even the best of people let themselves down when they rely on untested theories, and that these failures kill people and stain history. &quote;
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Replacing mistakes with delusions, said Holmes, was not a valiant way of facing up to the uncertainties, mysteries and doubts with which mankind was surrounded. &quote;
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All who drink of this treatment recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die. It is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases. &quote;
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