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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Philip W. Leon, PhD (The Citadel)
Description: The authors combined their collections of Civil War photographs and drawings having a medical aspect and collaborated in producing a readable, informative book that will interest medical professionals, Civil War buffs, and students of Americana in general. The subjects of the images are surgeons, nurses, designs of field and general hospitals, and, inevitably, grisly photographs of young soldiers maimed in combat.
Purpose: The book seeks to wed photography with medicine. Photography had advanced from early heliographs, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes just in time for the internecine struggle that helped define America. The authors intend to show that photography was a forerunner of today's indispensable medical imaging techniques. Their book identifies all the subjects and offers interesting anecdotes about the surgeons and the conditions under which they worked.
Audience: The book will appeal to Civil War scholars and to students of medical history. While most Civil War scholars probably know about weaponry, tactics, uniforms, communications, and the like, they might not know about the frequency of amputations, occurrences of diseases and their effect on the fighting force, and the use of anesthetics (which were surprisingly abundant and available). The authors, a dentist and a physician, speak to their fellow practitioners and do not hesitate to use precise medical terms that a layman might not know.
Features: Because this book is primarily a presentation of visual images, a pleasing aspect of the book is the remarkable quality of the photographs. Almost 150 years old, they are, as one might expect, sometimes rough around the edges and the lighting is crude by today's studio standards for the many cartes de visite, but the images are clear and interesting. Anecdotes add to the book's appeal. For instance, Civil War soldiers needed all four front incisors in order to tear open paper cartridges to load their rifles. At enlistment stations, examining physicians would mark "4F" on the records of men lacking those front teeth; hence the term 4F came to denote those unfit for duty for any medical reason. The one serious objection to the book is that it is self-restricting: almost all of the images are from the Union side because this is what the authors collected. The section dealing with Confederate surgeons consists of only 13 pictures on nine pages, and those pictures were borrowed from Dr. Jonathan O'Neal. For this reason, the book cannot be called comprehensive.
Assessment: The authors have made a valuable contribution to the field of Civil War medicine; a companion volume with similar images from the Confederate side would be welcome. This attractive book deserves a place in all medical school libraries and in the private book collections of military historians.