The apparently magical cures of sorcerers and mystics were the forerunners of modern day medicine and it was this cultural belief in the unknown and unproven, embodied by an all pervading fear of God, that gave these early doctors their power over the infirm well into the Middle Ages.
The transition from prehistoric herbalism to 21st century telesurgery has been more evolution than quantam leap and this is a reflection of society’s gradual acceptance of science as the basis for longer life over and above the limited spiritual solace provided by the power of prayer.
Steve Parker transports us through man’s medical journey by highlighting mile stones that have changed our approach to health care. The discovery of penicillin and the socially divisive exposure of the AIDS epidemic are two of the many landmark events brought to life by clear and concise narrative complemented by the use of photographs and illustrations to assist us in visualising how medicine has progressed from the rudimentary to the space age.
The author’s largely clinical appraisal is lightened by the sometimes inadvertent impact of medical research. The use of nitrous oxide as an early anaesthetic in the seventeenth century was found to not only deaden the pain of tooth ache but also induce uncontrollable laughter in the patient. “Laughing gas” somewhat remarkably became the drug of choice at select parties of the time and gives the reader the opportunity to reflect that current recreational drug use is far too serious these days.
The uncovering of DNA as the building blocks of life is a watershed moment but what this book continually reinforces is that medical development goes at its own pace and there is no better example of this than the eradication of smallpox. Joseph Lister started to use cowpox as a vaccine back in the late eighteenth century but we had to wait until 1980 for the World Health Assembly to declare the world free of this dreadful disease.
Ultimately though the author proves that it has been scientific research rather than time that has proven to be the great healer.
Kill or Cure – An Illustrated History of Medicine by Steve Parker
Published by DK
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