Sunday, October 5, 2008

Five best: books on the history of medicine

Stephanie J. Snow is a Research Associate at the Center for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine at the University of Manchester and the author of Operations Without Pain: The Practice and Science of Anaesthesia in Victorian Britain and the newly released Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How Anaesthetics Changed the World.

She named a five best list of her favorite books on the history of medicine for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on her list:
The Greatest Benefit to Mankind
by Roy Porter
Norton, 1997

As a survey of the history of medicine from the Greeks to the present day, "The Greatest Benefit to Mankind" is unsurpassed. It bridges Western and Eastern cultures and is packed with vivid anecdotes of patients and practitioners, including the 18th-century London surgeon John Abernethy, who commanded his fat lady patients: "Madam, buy a skipping rope." Porter, the eminent British historian who died in 2002 at age 55, writes that "the historical record is like the night sky: we see a few stars and group them into mythic constellations. But what is chiefly visible is the darkness." Still, he deftly illuminates much of medicine's historical landscape and shows how our expectations of health and life have been transformed by modern medicine and science. This is a book I return to again and again.
Read about all five titles on Snow's list.

--Marshal Zeringue