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In this brilliantly researched and written study, British medical historian Jay (The Air Loom Gang) tells the story of Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808), who established a "Pneumatic Institution" near Bristol to test his theories about using various gases to treat illness. Beddoes's science fell somewhere between alchemy and a truly modern medicine, and he attracted a circle that was dazzling even for its time, when salons brought together the most gifted conversationalists from across the spectrum of society. Beddoes employed the young Humphrey Davy, who quickly made important discoveries about batteries and electricity, and whose investigations of nitrous oxide lent Beddoes's work on gases some degree of respectability. Poets Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey also came into Beddoes's orbit, as did James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood as both sponsors of Beddoes and fathers of two of his consumptive patients. Fans of scientific biography and history of science, as well as history buffs in general, will be engrossed by Jay's marvelous study of an unusual man and the political and intellectual ferment of his time. Illus. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.