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4.3 out of 5 stars21
4.3 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 November 2003
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.
There are also about 40 rather appalling (some amusing) illustrations from previous centuries in this (for a change) accurately named little tome, showing the horrors of past medical practices. They enliven Porter's text, but you may need a magnifying glass to catch all the nuances--as though you might want to do that!--since some of the prints, while small enough to fit the page are not large enough for the unaided eye.
In short, this is a quick and unsettling read that may make the reader wonder about how future generations will view some of the medical procedures practiced today.
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on 25 April 2003
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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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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on 11 July 2010
The title says it all - a well put together journey throught the history of medicine. I found it an excellent review and start point for further research. Most of my students have read it as well and found it both readable and interesting - not bad from Sixth Form students.
I would recommend this book without reservation to anyone starting out in this field.
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on 16 February 2004
What can I say, I could hardly put this book down! Its a facinating look at medicine's development throughout the centuries right back from cave man times up to modern day diagnostic techniques for diseases such as AIDS and SARS. I would recomend it to any student doing a science course,not just medicine and it even would be of interest to those just interested in the subject as it does not contain too much technical jargon.
A definate read!
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on 31 December 2013
Product delivered promptly and in reasonable condition. Only complaint is that one of the bag paces was torn, but I can't be sure whether this was the book itself or happened during packaging/delivery. Overall, a great product for the price and a great Christmas stocking present!
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on 29 August 2014
Excellent book and a very good short introduction to Porters more detailed version A HISTORY of Medicine. Plainly porter knows his stuff and makes it reasonably easy to read too. Good for the scholar or just those interested in the subject.
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on 7 January 2013
This book is a wonderful find. It really provides a useful and intelligent over view of the history of medicine. It is factual but the author also has enormous insight and is able to use his extensive knowledge to highlight and inform.
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on 7 March 2014
An excellent entertaining romp through the history of medicine with lots of information on the development of medicine and surgery.
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on 23 August 2014
My daughter liked this book and found it very useful for her studies. It is easy to read and interestingly put together.
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