Some histories are simply too long for a short treatment, as this engaging but cursory volume demonstrates. Each chapter takes on various subtopics in the history of Western medicine: disease, doctors, the body, the laboratory, therapies, surgery, the hospital, and medicine and modern society. Porter, who died in 2002, cleverly uses this scheme to discuss major developments in rough chronological order: for example, in "The Body," he explains that important advances in anatomy preceded the evolution of the modern laboratory. The book derives from lectures in the social history of medicine that he gave at Wellcome Institute at University College, London. Even on the printed page he maintains a conversational tone that makes the topic wholly accessible. And his sometimes incisive observations go beyond the purely medical: "politicians... have been able to look to improved health care as a carrot to dangle before the electorate. Votes were to be had not just in bread and circuses but in beds and surgery." But too often such social analysis is sidelined by a rapid-fire recitation of dates, practitioners' names and fleeting references to their contributions. Porter clearly knew and loved his subject, but he could not bring himself to part with some of the trees to paint a clearer picture of the forest. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Although he wrote history books on a wide variety of subjects, Porter was best known as a historian of medicine, and this slim volume makes the basic outline of medical history widely accessible (his The Greatest Benefit to Mankind provides an in-depth version). Based on a lecture course, the approach here has the liveliness of speech and the useful brevity of an approach to a general audience. Porter addresses history by topic: Disease, Doctors, The Body, The Laboratory, Therapies, etc. An awful lot of useful information and perspective is crammed into less than 200 pages, and some of the historical illustrations that accompany text are wonderful in themselves. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Norton, 199p. illus. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
Author of the magisterial The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, Porter traces Medicine from the ancients to Viagra. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Capsule version of the late Porter's hefty and masterly medical history, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (1998), still chock-full of astonishing facts and fascinating illustrations. While his earlier work was aimed primarily at students of medicine, like those who attended his lectures at University College London, Porter trimmed this one for the general reader before his death in 2002. His subject is Western medicine, and he begins by looking at how the diseases that afflict humanity have changed from the days of prehistoric hunter-gatherers through the rise of agricultural settlements and great cities to the Industrial Revolution and the present era of global trade. Next, he surveys healing practices from the magic of tribal shamans through the Hippocratic doctors of ancient Greece to modern-day specialists. An Olympian researcher and entertaining storyteller, Porter reveals how investigation of the body itself changed thinking about disease and laid the foundations for 19th-century clinical medicine, then examines that century's organized laboratory investigations, which led to the development of modern biomedical sciences and the pharmaceutical breakthroughs of the 20th century. Surgery, at one time performed by barbers without anesthesia, gets a separate chapter that traces its development from crude amputations to organ transplants. Porter shows hospitals evolving from charitable institutions providing the poor with refuge and care to hubs of modern medicine and the power bases of a medical elite. Along the way, we meet Iri, Keeper of the Royal Rectum in ancient Egypt, examine a diagram of the first wooden stethoscope, and learn how William Harvey worked out the circulation ofblood. In conclusion, Porter notes that expectations of what modern medicine can achieve have grown alongside dissatisfaction with the impersonal, systematized delivery of health care services. Whatever the 21st century holds for medicine, he assures us, it will be different from the past. Surprisingly light and lively, for anyone interested in discovering how the healing arts became a science and a business. (38 b&w illustrations)