Bodies Politic: Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Picturing History Series)

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9780801439537: Bodies Politic: Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Picturing History Series)
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The renowned historian Roy Porter here takes us on an entertaining trip through more than two hundred years of visual and verbal accounts of the body and medicine. Focusing his attention for the first time on visual imagery, Porter examines the ways in which the sick and their healers were represented to the culture at large from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. The author combines erudition, a sharp sense of humor, and abundant art to show how contrasting conceptions of the healthy and diseased body were mapped onto antithetical notions of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. He juxtaposes images of disease to illustrations of medical practice, exploring self-presentations by physicians, surgeons, and quacks and showing how practitioners' public identities changed over time. Bodies Politic argues that the human body is the chief signifier and communicator of all manner of meanings—religious, moral, political, and medical alike—and that pre-scientific medicine was an art that depended heavily on performance, ritual, rhetoric, and theater. Throughout, Porter makes clear the wide metaphorical and symbolic implications of disease and doctoring.

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Review:

'a surpassingly good book full of grotesques from the golden age of the satirical cartoon ... What fun!' -- Jad Adams, BBC History Magazine, November 2001

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Press reviews
Tim Radford, The Guardian

"[A] wonderful book ... [Porter] says in his introduction that he turned his eye from text to illustration and saw a new story to tell. There are 153 illustrations in this book, 32 in colour, and every one is an exultation in the fleshly horrors of the era."

Catherine Pepinster, The Independent on Sunday

"[A] riveting account ... the great strength of this book lies in its use of visual material. Porter has made a fine attempt at helping us understand the past through caricature, illustrations and sketches as well as his own words. It is these images, by the likes of Cruikshank and Rowlandson, which make this such an excoriating account."

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, The Independent

"Porter is one of the world's best historical writers: his prose is pithy, witty, vivid, engaging and perfectly paced..The well-chose material - some edifying but most of it flesh-creepingly, sickeningly revolting - comes mainly from Porter's own beloved 18th century with some reference to the 19th ... Roy Porter's book illuminates the past. Present trends make it also seem ominously prophetic."

Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph

"The book is handsomely printed, and the reproductions are of good quality - an essential requirement in a book of this kind. [Porter's} knowledge of the material is unrivalled, and when he writes in unadorned fashion of the careers of doctors, writers and artists, he could hardly be bettered... [Porter's} book may be read with great pleasure and profit."

Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

[a] magical history tour of illness and public attitudes to disease and doctors over the past 250 years ... dense with thought-provoking reflections and makes you realise how very much we remain at the mercy of all-too fallible doctors."

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