Strange Medicine: A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices through the Ages

Nathan Belofsky. Penguin/Perigee, $14 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-399-15995-4
Belofsky (The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities) conjures horror and hilarity—sometimes at the same time—in this cheeky history of 2,400 years of doctors doing “more harm than good” and occasionally fumbling their way toward “Eureka!” Readers will be surprised to learn that some very important medical discoveries were near misses. Dr. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, for example, lay moldering for a decade before scientists developed it into a lifesaving antibiotic. Of course, there are plenty of medical adventures that, alas, failed to advance knowledge of the subject: one medieval physician prescribed swaddling torture victims in the skin of a “newly killed animal.” His most sage counsel? “If he is dead... do not attempt to treat.” Belofsky notes, however, that medicine sunk to its lowest point during its “Heroic Era.” In the late 1700s, Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, would strap patients to chairs, hang them from the ceiling, and spin them “like tops for hours on end.” Modern medics weren’t much kinder. In 1946, Dr. Walter Freeman introduced lobotomies, using ice picks from his kitchen to perform the procedure, and packing up the wife, kids, and picks for summer tours of national parks while he did surgeries at local hospitals. Makes a shot in the rear seem like a walk in the park with Dr. Walt. Agent: Janet Rosen, Sheree Bykofsky Associates Inc. (July 2)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 07/02/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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