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Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine…

Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine (edition 2003)

by Roy Porter

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314758,861 (3.48)21
An eminently readable, entertaining romp through the history of our vain and valiant efforts to heal ourselves. Mankind's battle to stay alive and healthy for as long as possible is our oldest, most universal struggle. With his characteristic wit and vastly informed historical scope, Roy Porter examines the war fought between disease and doctors on the battleground of the flesh from ancient times to the present. He explores the many ingenious ways in which we have attempted to overcome disease through the ages: the changing role of doctors, from ancient healers, apothecaries, and blood-letters to today's professionals; the array of drugs, from Ayurvedic remedies to the launch of Viagra; the advances in surgery, from amputations performed by barbers without anesthetic to today's sophisticated transplants; and the transformation of hospitals from Christian places of convalescence to modern medical powerhouses. Cleverly illustrated with historic line drawings, the chronic ailments of humanity provide vivid anecdotes for Porter's enlightening story of medicine's efforts to prevail over a formidable and ever-changing adversary.… (more)
Title:Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine
Authors:Roy Porter
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2003), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read in 2013, Science, Medicine, History

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Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine by Roy Porter



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» See also 21 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A short history of medicine
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
OK as far as it goes. not much news to me, having read his more chunky vol (Greatest Benefit) some years ago. ( )
  vguy | Sep 15, 2015 |
This is a good introduction to the evolution of western medicine. The introduction says that this is a skim through the topic, and I suppose I can't really complain too much about it feeling very superficial. The chapters were themed, with that on the evolution of germs and illness being the one I found the most interesting. There is a pretty extensive further reading list, and I can see a number of those making it onto the wish list. Good, but it left me wanting more. ( )
  Helenliz | Sep 6, 2015 |
This is one of those ‘surrogate’ books – I bought it because I really wanted something else, so any disappointment is my own fault.

The book I wanted was Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, his mammoth tome on the history of medicine, but my friendly neighbourhood bookshops never seem to have it when I'm in the mood. Instead, I bought this, which I thought might tide me over.

To be fair, the clue is in the title. This history of medicine really is short – if you take off the notes, bibliography and the many full-page illustrations, you're left with barely 150 pages of text. (Edit: I just counted, it's actually 130.) Like a literary amuse-bouche, I thought it might whet my appetite for the bigger version (excuse the dangling modifier), but despite the clear labelling I unfortunately found it more frustrating than stimulating.

The approach is thematic: eight chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of medicine, including disease itself, anatomy, surgery, the hospital, and so on. So we have a score of pages on each, running very briskly from antiquity to now, before resetting the clock again at the start of the next chapter. Porter's prose is as wonderful as ever, and his conclusions typically judicious. But the frenetic pace doesn't show off his talents to best effect, and the merciless effort to pare things down to the essentials means there's little room for all the grisly anecdotes of mediaeval births and eighteenth-century amputations that you want from something like this.

My preconceptions aside, this is a solid grounding in the story so far, and it will bring you up to speed. It will also have you thanking all the gods, once again, that you were born in the era of anaesthetics and antibiotics (although, as always, you can't help wondering what future generations will consider appalling about our own time).

It has some interesting things to say about modern medicine too, especially the drive towards healthcare-as-business in the US: I was amazed to read that one head of the Hospital Corporation of America was a former fast-food manager who said approvingly that ‘the growth potential in hospitals is unlimited: it's even better than Kentucky Fried Chicken’. ‘In the USA health insurance became a lasting political football,’ Porter comments mildly in 2002. (Oh Roy, if you only knew.)

‘Compulsory Health Insurance,’ declared one Brooklyn physician, ‘is an Un-American, Unsafe, Uneconomic, Unscientific, Unfair and Unscrupulous type of Legislation supported by…Misguided Clergymen and Hysterical Women.’

Porter is surprisingly ambivalent when it comes to giving an overall verdict on modern medicine, taking the view that improvements in life expectancy and pain relief are offset by commercialisation and a dubious record in how well western techniques have been exported to the developing world. (That is, investing in basic hygiene and nutrition might have been better than exporting expensive pharmaceuticals.)

I can't give this less than three stars, because the facts are all there and he writes beautifully. Unfortunately, the fact is that I wanted a lobster thermidore and I ended up nibbling a breadstick. ( )
  Widsith | Oct 30, 2013 |
A very brief, almost impressionistic, history of medicine. Good as far as it goes, but it paints with a very broad brush. ( )
  quizshow77 | Aug 7, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
In eight beautifully crafted chapters, Porter deals with the evolution of diseases, the development of the medical profession, the growth of anatomy, physiology and therapeutics, the history of hospitals and the growing socio-political significance of medicine. Each of these topics has been addressed in isolated ways by scholarly monographs, but this little book provides the big picture that one must master before approaching those tomes. Despite the occasional factual error (beriberi is not caused by a deficiency of Vitamin A) this is an impressively researched, generously imagined and superbly written introduction to a grand subject affecting us all. It should, ideally, be read with Madness: a brief history (Oxford), published shortly before Porter's death and providing an equally compact and luminous synthesis of its own complex subject. The brilliance of these valedictory works will be a revelation to those unfamiliar with Porter's work, and remind the rest of us of the extent of our loss.
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The art has three factors, the disease, the patient, the physician. The physician is the servant of the art. The patient must cooperate with the physician in combating the disease.
Hippocrates, Epidemics, I, II
Physician, heal thyself.
St. Luke, 4: 23
To Natsu the panacea
First words
The war between disease and doctors fought out on the battleground of the flesh has a beginning and a middle but no end. The history of medicine, in other words, is far from a simple tale of triumphant progress.
And I looked, and behold a pale horse and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
The Book of Revelations, 6:8
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Mankind's battle to stay alive is the greatest of all subjects. This brief, witty and unusual book by Britain's greatest medical historian compresses into a tiny span a lifetime spent thinking about millennia of human ingenuity in the quest to cheat death. Each chapter sums up one of these battlefields (surgery, doctors, disease, hospitals, laboratories and the human body) in a way that is both frightening and elating. Startlingly illustrated, A SHORT HISTORY OF MEDICINE is the ideal presentfor anyone who is keenly aware of their own mortality and wants to do something about it. It is also a wonderful memorial to one of Penguin's greatest historians.
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W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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