HEAL THYSELF: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People

Benjamin Woolley, Author
Benjamin Woolley, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (402p) ISBN 978-0-06-009066-1
Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
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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)

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