Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People

Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People

by Benjamin Woolley
     
 

The first full biography of Nicholas Culpeper, the English seventeenth-century pioneer of herbal medicine whose actions and beliefs revolutionized medicine and medical practice

In the mid-seventeenth century, England was visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a civil war that saw levels of slaughter not matched until the Somme; famine in a succession

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Overview

The first full biography of Nicholas Culpeper, the English seventeenth-century pioneer of herbal medicine whose actions and beliefs revolutionized medicine and medical practice

In the mid-seventeenth century, England was visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a civil war that saw levels of slaughter not matched until the Somme; famine in a succession of failed harvests that reduced peasants to "anatomies"; epidemics to rival the Black Death; and infant mortality rates that emptied crowded households of their children. In the midst of these terrible times came Nicholas Culpeper's Herbal — one of the most popular and enduring books ever published.

Culpeper was a virtual outcast from birth. Rebelling against a tyrannical grandfather and the prospect of a life in the Church, he abandoned his university education after a doomed attempt at elopement. Disinherited, he went to London, Milton's "city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty." There he was to find his vocation as an herbalist — and as a revolutionary.

London's medical regime was then in the grip of the College of Physicians, a powerful body personified in the "immortal" William Harvey, anatomist, royal physician and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Working in the underground world of religious sects, secret printing presses and unlicensed apothecary shops, Culpeper challenged this stronghold at the time it was reaching the very pinnacle of its power — and in the process became part of the revolution that toppled a monarchy.

In a spellbinding narrative of impulse, romance and heroism, Benjamin Woolley vividly re-creates these momentous struggles and the roots of today's hopes and fears about the power of medical science, professional institutions and government. Heal Thyself tells the story of a medical rebel who took on the authorities and paid the price.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ostensibly a biography of Culpeper, who first translated Latin medical works into English in the 17th century, this book goes well beyond the life of one individual to document the transformation of medicine during one of the most traumatic periods in English history. Culpeper is best known today for Culpeper's Complete Herbal, a comprehensive listing of English medicinal herbs along with directions on their use. Still in print after more than 350 years, the Herbal is, in Woolley's words, "one of the most popular and enduring books in publishing history, perhaps the non-religious book in English to remain longest in continuous print." Emmy-winning British journalist Woolley (The Queen's Conjurer) does a wonderful job of situating Culpeper (1616-1654) within the English civil war of the era. As he demonstrates, the politics associated with the creation of the medical profession were every bit as important as the science underlying specific treatments. Culpeper's lower-class, populist roots and sentiments are contrasted with those of William Harvey, a royalist and one of England's greatest scientists. As a member of the medical establishment, Harvey helped keep medical knowledge from the common people while Culpeper fought to do just the opposite. The book is enjoyable on many levels and in a time preoccupied with empowering patients and making information available on the Internet, this tale has particular resonance. 25 b&w illus. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Chances are, there's a version of Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal on your library's shelves. In well over 300 years, it has never been out of print. But check an encyclopedia, and you will find at most a brief reference to its author, one of Britain's most influential citizens. Woolley (The Queen's Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Adviser to Queen Elizabeth I) rises to the challenge of piecing together the little historical record that remains of Culpeper's life, blending 17th-century social history, the Puritan Revolution, and the history of medicine. Most striking are Culpeper's philosophy of focusing on the patient, rather than the disease, and his practice of using local ingredients, prepared simply, while encouraging hygiene and healthy living. He was perhaps the first "professional" consumer health advocate, publishing a people's version of what was previously restricted knowledge (including a book favorable to the midwifery profession). Woolley's impeccably researched and engaging book has enough drama to appeal to history lovers, fans of herbal lore, and the biographically curious. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries, this will make a fine companion to Complete Herbal.-Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060090661
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/29/2004
Pages:
402
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.32(d)

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