An authoritative and accessible illustrated introduction to medical history.
This book, edited by the distinguished English historian Roy Porter, is a lavishly presented and clearly narrated account of the major transformations that mark the rise and course of western scientific medicine. It is intended to present a survey of western medicine. Written for the educated layman rather than the professional historian or well-read physician, the book covers a wide range of subjects, including the history of modern diseases (especially contagious diseases), medical pioneers, and therapeutic discoveries. The opening chapters on the history of disease and the rise of medicine devote substantial attention to the ancient period; subsequent chapters are more thematic in approach, addressing such issues as the rise of the hospital and its links to surgery, mental illness, and health care policy. Although there are frequent references to American and continental developments, not surprisingly, English events are at the heart of these pages. Although the introduction promises that this history of medicine will not be a standard celebration of medical progress and how medical technology pushed back the frontiers of death, the anticipation is not fulfilled. Roy Porter aptly observes that medicine's many successes have brought it substantial criticism from the public; indeed, ""medicine may appear to be losing its way."" But the chapters themselves, with only a few exceptions, devote most of their attention to stories of conquest, not to the root causes of the contemporary discomfort with the profession. Moreover, the thematic quality of the chapters, many of them tracing their subject matter from pre-modern to contemporary times, leaves readers without a secure sense oflinks among the parts and without a firm grasp of an overall chronology. These points notwithstanding, there is a mine of information here, all of it accessible to the reader, and the pictorial accompaniments to the text are superb. To browse through the pages is both enjoyable and rewarding. A physician or patient who wants a responsible and handsome survey of the field will be very pleased to have this book.