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on 13 October 2013
Great Christmas present for anyone with a body and access to modern medicine. It would not be difficult to make up a book of horror stories from the history of medicine; bloodletting, apparent total lack of awareness of basic hygiene (did people never wash their hands?), and reliance on charms all make it reasonable to discount much of it as medicine at all. But as Walker points out in the introduction to this book, early medicine was not all `toads and brandy'. Alongside the daftnesses proposed by physicians ready to prescribe the moss from a skull, or chopped up earthworms, there has certainly since the Anglo-Saxon period, and presumably before, been an effective and empirical body of knowledge concerning the curative properties of native herbs and animal material which has provided the sources for many modern medicines. It seems to be the enthusiasm to create theories based on too little observation and too little knowledge that makes it all go wrong.

The great value of this book, apart from the alarming nature of much of the material, is that it compares the feasible with the weird, the empirically proven with the pointless, and the thankfully abandoned with the recognisable. It's not a collection of fun things to try at home, though the author states that he has tried one, successfully; I'm going to give it a try (it's not the onion strategically inserted to stop a nosebleed). And the wince-inducing ones will take you to places you never knew. It's beautifully designed, the illustrations are wonderful, and it's ideal as an enjoyable introduction to the history of western medicine. And as the author says in the introduction, you will feel very relieved to be alive at this moment in history.
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on 11 January 2014
I bought this book for my Dad for Christmas but took a sneaky look at it myself before I wrapped it. It makes fascinating reading, not only for the weird and wonderful cures they had centuries ago, but also for the author's comments on whether the cure would actually work or not. Some of the herbs and medicines they used would have had a positive effect on the illness, sadly some of the remedies were highly poisonous! I asked my Dad for his opinion on the book and he found it very interesting as well.
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