Roy Porter, the recently deceased
Professor of the History of Social Medicine at University College, London, was
a prolific writer. He edited this
formidable book and wrote much of it as well.
Originally published in 1996, a paperback version of the text was issued
This is neither a scholarly treatise
nor even a chronological account of the history of medicine, which in some ways
makes the book all the more delightful.
After an introduction by Porter, there is a long chapter on the history
of disease by Kenneth Kiple, a chapter on the rise of medicine by Vivian
Nutton, a chapter by Porter which attempts to define disease, an excellent
chapter on primary care by Edward Shorter, a chapter on medical science by
Porter, a chapter on hospitals and surgery by Porter, a chapter on
pharmacologys development by Miles Weatherall, an outstanding but brief
chapter on mental illness by Porter, a chapter on medicine and society by John
Pickstone, and a fascinating final chapter on the future of medicine by Geoff
Watts. Each chapter is magnificently
and profusely illustrated with photographs and paintings.
Indeed, this is a beautiful book,
and the illustrations are so telling that they could almost have been published
without any text. But the text is
good! These are thoughtful essays on
the history of medicine which do not require a background in that field. Each of the contributions is well written,
and they fit together very well -a tribute to Porters editorial skills. There are enjoyable anecdotes scattered
throughout the book.
The only criticism I have is that this is not a comprehensive
history of medicine, illustrated or not but it does not pretend to be. I thought more footnotes would have been
helpful, and the index is very sparse at six pages. The intriguing Index of Medical Personalities provides
irritatingly little information.
In total, however, this is a book I
can very warmly recommend. Historians
of medicine will savor the illustrations.
It can serve as a wonderful introduction to the history of medicine for
medical students, physicians, and others.
Sadly, Porter fares no better than
hundreds of his forebears in defining disease but the effort is heroic. This is a wonderful book!
© 2002 Lloyd A. Wells
Lloyd A. Wells, Ph.D., M.D., is a child and
adolescent psychiatrist at the Mayo
Clinic in Minnesota. He has a particular interest in philosophical issues
related to psychiatry and in the logic used in psychiatric discourse.