Strange Medicine: A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Agesby Nathan Belofsky
Strange Medicine casts a gimlet eye on the practice of medicine through the ages that highlights the most dubious ideas, bizarre treatments, and biggest blunders. From bad science and oafish behavior to stomach-turning procedures that hurt more than helped, Strange Medicine presents strange but true facts and an honor roll of doctors, scientists, and dreamers who inadvertently turned the clock of medicine backward:
• The ancient Egyptians applied electric eels to cure gout.
• Medieval dentists burned candles in patients’ mouths to kill invisible worms gnawing at their teeth.
• Renaissance physicians timed surgical procedures according to the position of the stars, and instructed epileptics to collect fresh blood from the newly beheaded.
• Dr. Walter Freeman, the world’s foremost practitioner of lobotomies, practiced his craft while traveling on family camping trips, cramming the back of the station wagon with kids—and surgical tools—then hammering ice picks into the eye sockets of his patients in between hikes in the woods.
Strange Medicine is an illuminating panorama of medical history as you’ve never seen it before.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Nathan Belofsky is the author of The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities, which has been featured in the New Yorker and on Salon. He lives in Manhattan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
The path to modern medicine is strewn with helpful and malignant practices, all of which are wondrous to the modern reader. The earliest theories most of us have heard are included which concern the four humors of the body believed to cause health and disease, blood, black bile, yellow bile or phlegm. In ancient Rome the first doctors were better known as “executioners.” Little was known about the human body and experimentation by analysis of internal anatomy was mostly forbidden until the time of Leonardo da Vinci when cadavers were used to study the body. Add to that the superstitions of the ancient world where some believed illness arrived via the presence of ghosts, elves, or other malignant, demonic spirits. Therefore one could reason that such dangerous beings called for severe measures. But what does one think when considering the use of electric eels attached to the head to treat migraine headaches? Or what about using branding irons to cauterize parts of the head until bone was exposed? Sounds gruesome but burning away, on par with later uses of leeches to purge the blood of illness at the time seemed quite logical. On the other hand, the well-known Hildegard of Bingen’s (12th Century) believed the origins of all sickness were linked to lungs, spleen and liver, a theory that many alternative medicine practitioners today follow with substantial success. Or one could read about the 19th Century practitioner Mandt prescribed a laxative for the first time for a patient who had swallowed a snake. The terrors of surgery were quite real to almost all patients in the nineteenth century where gangrene, lack of anesthesia, and surgical errors proved deadly to far too many victims. More amazing is the fact that the “Great Anatomy Theater” was standing room only status as viewers vied to watch a live macabre removal of a groin tumor. So these stories progress, all the way to the well-known shock therapy and surgical lobotomy procedures used to cure or at least help patients suffering from mental illness. Belofsky’s book is replete with amazing facts and stories of medical treatments intriguing those who practiced as doctors with and without formal training. What drives one’s interest in Belofsky’s history is the fact that there was no other way for medical practice to evolve but the “practice’ of trial and error. All, after all, truly wanted to “help” those in medical need. Strange Mystery… is shocking but intriguing and fascinating reading for all interested in medical care, as it is well-researched, readable for the average layman, and panoramic in scope. Highly recommended!
This book was insane. I couldn't even believe the horrors that were considered medicine in 16th-17th century all up until the early 1900's this book covers it all and more. Don't be fooled by the size. It will definitely get you sucked in to it's horrific details. I absolutely loved it. A must read.