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Book review - Health & Living - A potted medical history

Anyone with an interest in medicine will be fascinated to learn how modern medicine has developed into what it is today. History of Medicine is described by the publisher as ‘an amiable amble through medicine’s past’ which I found to be rather apt. The book is peppered with amusing illustrations by the award-winning cartoonist Sir Quentin Blake that enhance its relaxed approach.

History of Medicine follows the evolution of medicine through author Tim Hall’s ‘Ages’; essentially, 16 chapters that take the reader from pre-history to modern medicine in an easy-to-read format.

From Devon, Hall describes himself as a ‘youngish’ geriatrician with a natural curiosity about the world. He is a fellow of the Royal College and a former GP, as which he spent many years in Australia – working alongside the flying doctor service.

The book is not an exhaustive nor wholly chronological description of all that ever happened in medicine’s evolution, rather it is a collection of stories of interesting, odd, quirky and inspiring events over a period from the ice age to modernity via antiquity and the, often macabre, middle ages.

Interesting titbits include the fact that the inhabitants of Mesopotamia practised medicine (and had bathrooms) in 4000BC and that a Babylonian king drew up the earliest known code of law, that included medical practice. The Chinese and Indians, we learn, were more philosophical in their approach to medicine with the practice of acupuncture and Ayurveda. However, both cultures had more handson approaches when it came to surgery and medication – the Indians being dab hands at reconstructing the noses removed from adulterers and the Chinese insufflating smallpox crusts into the nose to inoculate against the disease.

We can’t fail to be impressed by the advances of the Greeks as always. We learn of Erasistratus (c304-250BC) who described the heart’s various components and recognised its role as a pump and not merely the seat of sentient in the body.

In the middle ages, we learn that bubonic plague gave rise to the introduction of quarantine – so named after the recommended 40-day period of isolation.

The 20th century chapters focus largely on the explosion of pharmacology and the age of intervention, with a pill for every ill, so to speak.

History of Medicine is a great little read for those taken by historical titbits and therefore comes recommended.

- Alison Moore

Book review - Health & Living - A potted medical history


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