Greatest Benefit to Mankind (Norton History of Science)

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9780393319804: Greatest Benefit to Mankind (Norton History of Science)
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Hailed as "a remarkable achievement" (Boston Sunday Globe) and as "a triumph: simultaneously entertaining and instructive, witty and thought-provoking . . . a splendid and thoroughly engrossing book" (Los Angeles Times), Roy Porter's charting of the history of medicine affords us an opportunity as never before to assess its culture and science and its costs and benefits to mankind. Porter explores medicine's evolution against the backdrop of the wider religious, scientific, philosophical, and political beliefs of the culture in which it develops, covering ground from the diseases of the hunter-gatherers to today's threat of AIDS and ebola, from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern-day medicine. Offering up a treasure trove of historical surprises along the way, this book "has instantly become the standard single-volume work in its field" (The Lancet). "The author's perceptiveness is, as usual, scalpel-sharp; his manner genially bedside; his erudition invigorating." - Simon Schama

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Samuel Johnson once called the medical profession "the greatest benefit to mankind." In the 20th century, the quality of that benefit has improved more and more rapidly than at any other comparable time in history. With all the capabilities of modern medicine's practitioners, however, we as a people are as worried about our health as ever.

Roy Porter, a social historian of medicine at London's Wellcome Institute, has written a dauntingly thick history of how medical thinking and practice has risen to the challenges of disease through the centuries. But delve into its pages and you'll find one marvellous piece of history after another. The obvious highlights are touched upon--Hippocrates introduces his oath, Pasteur homogenises, Jonas Salk produces the polio vaccine and so on--but there's also Dr. Francis Willis' curing of the madness of King George III, W.T.G. Morton's aggressive use of ether in surgery and research on digestion conducted using a man with a stomach fistula (if you don't know what that means, you may not want to know). Porter is straightforward about his deliberate focus on Western medical traditions, citing their predominant influence on global medicine, and with The Greatest Benefit to Mankind he has produced a volume worthy of that tradition's legacy.

Review:

‘A superb book – fluent, lucid, scary and even funny...essential reading.’ Sunday Times

‘Magnificently erudite and compellingly humane.’ New Statesman (Books of the Year)

‘Yet another compulsively readable, astonishingly encyclopaedic book from Roy Porter...his best to date: an epic, one-volume narrative history of man’s struggle with the infirmities of his body, from Aesculapius to AIDS.’ Simon Schama

‘Whether you are interested in the advent of the stethoscope, the history of yellow fever, the bubonic plague or, closer to home, coronary heart disease, the feminist influence on medicine, drug abuse, childbearing or cancer, this book provides the historic background to these and other medical questions...”The Greatest Benefit to Mankind” is a first-class introduction to medical history. Like a well constructed broadsheet leader, it excites thought and discussion, as well as providing many answers.’ The Times

‘Hypochondriac heaven – a gripping, scholarly, fact-packed, must-have book.’ Daily Mail

‘A monumental work... magnificent.’ Independent on Sunday

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