cover image Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

Clifford A. Pickover. Prometheus Books, $24.98 (232pp) ISBN 978-1-57392-794-9

This is the engrossing story of Mary Toft, a young 18th-century Englishwoman who sought to make some money by inserting parts of rabbits into her vagina and pretending to expel them from her uterus. The case was celebrated at the time--popular poems appeared about it, bestsellers were written about it, the king of England ordered an investigation, her contemporaries considered her, as the title puts it, a medical mystery--and she became something of a freak-sensation. Pickover (Time: A Traveller's Guide, etc.), carefully explores how 18th-century physicians were able to believe in such a medical marvel--even though they were scientifically in a position to have known better--and then finds in this history a cautionary tale appropriate for our own times. We are, he argues, living in an age in which there is widespread credulity about a great many things, and we need to be vigilant against pseudoscientific hoaxes.Pickover's breezy, colloquial writing style is better suited to popular lecture than print, and his text contains an excess of digressions that, although entertaining, do little to advance the story. Still, though flawed, this is a thought-provoking and original book. Illustrations. (May)