THE GREATEST BENEFIT TO MANKIND: A Medical History of Humanity by Roy Porter
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THE GREATEST BENEFIT TO MANKIND: A Medical History of Humanity

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A learned, lively history of medicine ""from Stone Age to New Age, from Galen to Gallo."" Unable to find a modern, readable, one-volume history of medicine for his students, Porter (A Social History of Madness, 1988, etc.), of London's Wellcome Institute for the History of Science, has filled that gap admirably with this fascinating survey of medical theory and practice through the centuries. While he looks at medicine in early societies, and Islamic, Indian, and Chinese medicine, his focus is on Western medicine, which he finds uniquely powerful and now uniquely global. He explores its foundations in ancient Greece and Rome, the impact of the new science of the Renaissance, and the initial failure of biomedical findings to deliver effective new therapies. The accomplishments of individuals are here--Harvey, Koch, Pasteur, Lister, Freud., etc.--but Porter does not tell history simply through great men. The influence of French hospitals on medical education; how German laboratories created a new pathology, physiology, and pharmacology; the development of specialization; public health measures; medicine's role in the expansion of imperial powers--all are included. In stylish prose, he paints a panoramic picture filled with memorable anecdotes, apt quotes, startling statistics, and sobering conclusions. At intervals he returns to specific topics, such as treatment of the insane, to demonstrate the shifts taking place in both social attitudes and medical practice. Approaching modern times, Porter reports on the great strides made in biomedical research, paying special attention to neurology, endocrinology, cancer, cardiology, genetics, and immunology. In his closing chapters, he turns to the politics of contemporary medicine, examining the changing relationship between the state and medicine and between medicine and the people. Never before, he notes, has medicine achieved so much nor attracted such great suspicion. With its triumphs ""dissolving in disorientation,"" medicine, warns Porter, must now redefine its limits. Thoroughly impressive--merits a broad lay readership in addition to meal students.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Norton