BLOOD AND GUTS: A Short History of Medicine

Roy Porter, Author . Norton $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-03762-3

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)

Reviewed on: 02/24/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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