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Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the…

Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to…

by Benjamin Woolley

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In Culpeper's time, medicine was controlled by a learned elite, who prescribed complicated and dangerous compounds whose precise formulas were kept a closely guarded secret. As they relied heavily on exotic and sometimes toxic herbs as well as heavy metals, the cures were often as lethal as the diseases they purported to cure. These 'cures' weren't cheap, either. Here we get the story of Nicholas Culpeper, dreamer and rebel, who faced the wrath of the establishment by revealing the secret recipes of the pharmacists. He came under further fire when he then produced his own book of herbal cures, aimed at the common man, and written - shockingly - in plain English. His Herbal drew heavily on folk medicine and old wives' lore, and focused exclusively on native, easily identified plants - putting medicine, or at least self-care, back into the hands of the people.

Though I found Woolley's writing style a little off-putting, this is a fascinating story anyway, with some alarming and enlightening parallels to our own lives and to 20th century medical culture. ( )
  paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
The book on a whole is very interesting but misleading. While claiming to be a biography on Nicholas Culpeper it seemed to me to be more a biography of William Harvey. The author admits in the beginning that there is very little information on Culpeper so the book is loaded with perhaps's, maybe's, and likely's. The first chapter starts off with childhood and then touches on Culpepers life occasionally in the many following chapters only truly focusing on him in the last chapters where more information is easier to get from his own publications. The book mainly focuses on a whirlwind of events centering around the English Civil War and the College of Physicians. Though I like having the history in a biography to place a person within their period the history shouldn't take over the biography like it has here. So if one goes into this book with eyes wide open and reads it more as a commentary on the medical and social challenges and changes which came about during this period you will be far happier. ( )
  Loptsson | Oct 23, 2010 |
Interesting story of the life and times of Nicholas Culpeper. It leans more on the social history of the period rather than being about Nicholas Culpeper, looking at the medical theory of the time and the social life at the time. It also compares the influence and reputation of Harvey and Culpeper and asks the question how come Culpeper, while he was a translator of the herbal available at the time and put some of the medical care of people into the hands of the people themselves he's regarded as a quack.

It's not really about Culpeper as much as about the medical and social history of the period and the influence he had on it. I was somewhat disappointed by it in that he really didn't seem to feature until after his death but then again the author was dealing with a character about whom little is known. Perhaps if I had known that this was the emphasis of the book I would have been happier with it. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Oct 8, 2008 |
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In the landscape of history, Nicholas Culpeper has not always been welcome.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060090669, Hardcover)

The first full biography of Nicholas Culpeper, the English seventeenth-century pioneer of herbal medicine whose actions and beliefs revolutionized medicine and medical practice

In the mid-seventeenth century, England was visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a civil war that saw levels of slaughter not matched until the Somme; famine in a succession of failed harvests that reduced peasants to "anatomies"; epidemics to rival the Black Death; and infant mortality rates that emptied crowded households of their children. In the midst of these terrible times came Nicholas Culpeper's Herbal -- one of the most popular and enduring books ever published.

Culpeper was a virtual outcast from birth. Rebelling against a tyrannical grandfather and the prospect of a life in the Church, he abandoned his university education after a doomed attempt at elopement. Disinherited, he went to London, Milton's "city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty." There he was to find his vocation as an herbalist -- and as a revolutionary.

London's medical regime was then in the grip of the College of Physicians, a powerful body personified in the "immortal" William Harvey, anatomist, royal physician and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Working in the underground world of religious sects, secret printing presses and unlicensed apothecary shops, Culpeper challenged this stronghold at the time it was reaching the very pinnacle of its power -- and in the process became part of the revolution that toppled a monarchy.

In a spellbinding narrative of impulse, romance and heroism, Benjamin Woolley vividly re-creates these momentous struggles and the roots of today's hopes and fears about the power of medical science, professional institutions and government. Heal Thyself tells the story of a medical rebel who took on the authorities and paid the price.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The story of Nicholas Culpeper - legendary rebel, radical, Puritan and author of the great 'Herbal'. This history of medicine's first freedom fighter is set in London during Britain's age of revolution.

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