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on 25 July 2009
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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on 21 March 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. George Washington died because a succession of doctors `bled' him until he had virtually no blood left!

There were some mavericks who, despite approbation and opposition, began to question this blind faith and began proposing and implementing tests of their treatments to try and determine if they were truly effective or actually harmful. Even then, many physicians would refuse to accept the evidence. It was only in the late 1970s and early 1980s that there finally emerged a new method, that of Evidence Based Medicine, based on randomised, double-blind clinical trials, that prescribed treatments became predictable in their outcomes. Nevertheless, there still exist many prejudices in the profession that incline many to refuse to accept that statistical evidence can usurp intuition and experience.

A thoroughly engaging and fascinating book on a topic that affects us all, and well worth reading!
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on 12 January 2014
It approaches a complicated subject in a clear and well-defined manner. It is done in bite-sized chapters i.e. each chapter is on a different aspect of the subject thus it does not become over-blown or boring. Although I knew a little about the subject Druin Burch
approaches it from an unusual angle and thus I learned a great deal about medicine that was fascinating and appalling at the same time. I would definitely recommend it.
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on 7 July 2016
I might have rated this book higher if it had not been so contradictory.
First the author (a doctor naturally) rubbished all past medicine including traditional therapies as 'useless'
Next he suggested that everything was all right now because we have clinical trials for new drugs.
Then he told a number of stories about bad clinical trials and how doctors ignore them anyway.

In the end, despite several interesting stories - some of the more modern make your hair stand on end - bring back blood-letting; it seems the lesser of evils - this book was bewildering. i am still not sure what the author was trying to convey. It has made me quite cynical about doctors anyway! A good read but I am no wiser.
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on 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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on 31 August 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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on 31 March 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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on 2 May 2013
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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on 18 January 2012
I really enjoyed this book. Full of interesting anecdotes strung together in a loose but engaging narrative. It is essentially a history of and manifesto for randomised, blinded, controlled trials.

By telling the stories - historical and more recent - of how most medical interventions were unproven and postively dangerous, he shows us the fallibility of the medics and, in the process, scares the layman a bit. Even as someone who has read a fair bit of stuff in this area, the book is full of good stories.

If I had a gripe, it is that Druin occaisonally lets his passion for the idea get the better of him. Some of his collections of stories seem unbalanced and some are more relevant than others. Is it necessary to paint Bayer as proud of its concentration camp work? Are pharma companies really as immoral as he implies? It's not that he doesn't have a good point to make but sometimes he weakens his own points by neglecting balance. Slightly reminiscent of Dawkins in that respect (and Dawkins is my hero!)

But well worth the read.

Oh one more gripe. Some great references at the back, but not cited in the text. Grrr!

But I must end on a postive. I enjoyed the read, learned a lot and would recommend to anyone.
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on 15 December 2016
Thoroughly involving read, I've been recommending it to anyone whether they are medically minded or not!
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