Showing 121 - 130 of 145 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

The Mysteries Within

Nuland, Sherwin

Last Updated: Feb-19-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In The Mysteries Within, Sherwin Nuland takes the reader on a guided tour of selected organs inside the human body. Beginning with the stomach, he progresses along to visit the liver, spleen, heart, uterus, and ovaries. At each point he addresses various historical and contemporary beliefs, as promised in the book's subtitle, "A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths." Nuland brings to this endeavor the patented mixture of personal story, elucidation of medical history, and plain old good writing that characterizes all of his books.

For example, he devotes the first three chapters to the stomach. The first consists mostly of a brilliant clinical tale in which a six-week-old baby is found to have a wax bezoar in his stomach. The second and third provide a cogent survey of beliefs about the stomach's function, beginning with Greek humoral theory, continuing through van Helmont and the iatrochemists, and ending with Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and his seminal monograph, The Work of the Digestive Glands.

Van Helmont and his mentor, Paracelsus, appear again and again in later chapters as the earliest champions of the idea that the body runs by means of chemical processes (iatrochemistry). However, as Nuland points out, Paracelsus has left us two different legacies. One is his devotion to chemistry and experimentation, which eventually led to modern biological science. The other is his devotion to alchemy and mysticism, which makes him as well a forerunner of contemporary irrational systems of healing.

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Summary:

In 1871 the Polaris, a rebuilt tugboat commissioned by the U.S. Navy, set sail with a dual mission: planting the stars and stripes on the North Pole and providing scientific data and specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. A number of poor decisions were made early on in the planning and initiation of the expedition, including an inadequately structured vessel, a vague power distribution lacking a clear absolute authority, and a sailing captain with a significant alcohol problem.

The power struggles begin early. By the third month of the voyage the ship is in physical trouble and the designated expedition head (Charles Francis Hall) has died suddenly of an unexplained illness. There is no leader and the struggle for control erupts between the German scientist/physician who is responsible for the scientific mission and the drunken whaleboat captain who is responsible for keeping his ship and crew safe.

Bad weather, terrible luck, and lack of discipline result in the loss of the Polaris, the splitting of the crew onto separate ice floes, and several months of harrowing experience trying to survive the Arctic winter and hope for rescue. The good news is that everyone except Mr. Hall miraculously survives the ordeal. The subsequent Naval inquiry into the failed endeavor ends without resolution as to the cause of Hall’s death despite hints from crew members that it was not natural. In 1968, long after all crew members had expired, Hall’s grave was located and forensic samples proved that he had died of arsenic poisoning.

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Thinks . . .

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helen Reed, a novelist, newly widowed, moves to the University of Gloucester for a semester to teach creative writing. There she meets Ralph Messenger, professor of cognitive science. Their relationship is set within a web of complex professional and family connections, most of which focus on variations of adultery. Everyone has a secret. Helen learns by reading the novel-in-progress of one of her students that the student had had an affair with her husband.

Ralph, awkwardly involved with a Czech grad student who is trying to blackmail him, is regularly unfaithful to his wife, who is in turn having an affair. Another scientist is addicted to on-line child pornography. Helen and Ralph eventually become lovers, until Ralph is found to have a lump on his liver (which later turns out not to be cancer) and then betrays Helen by reading her private journals. She then returns to London and he remains with his wife.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Dr. Sacks was growing up in London during World War II and had a very traumatic experience when he was sent away from his home for protection from the bombing. He and his brother were sent to a boarding school, where they were beaten and underfed. Sack's home had been filled with a wonderful extended family of physicists, mathematicians, teachers, and chemists, in addition to his parents who were both practicing physicians. Being unusually bright and talented, Sacks responded to a wide variety of stimuli when he returned to this environment.

He became fascinated with the chemistry of metals and with the periodic table of elements. An uncle, for whom the book is named, was a manufacturer of light bulbs with tungsten filaments and encouraged him in setting up his own chemistry laboratory in the family laundry room, to do experiments. The family allowed him a great deal of freedom, which encouraged his creativity.

In writing about these experiences Sacks includes the history of the development of chemistry concepts that fascinated him. It was only much later that his interests moved on to the natural sciences and medicine. He says that his parents had been tolerant and even pleased with his early interests in chemistry but by the time he was fourteen they felt that the time for play was over. He kept a journal from the age of fourteen and took advantage of every opportunity to read broadly and experience nature, music and art.

In retrospect, however, Sacks felt that life was shallower after he left behind his passion for chemistry. He says that he dreams of chemistry at night. This description of such intense interest in the world around him and the people he read about or knew explains a great deal about his great success as a neurologist and as a remarkable story teller.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This essay provides a rich and detailed critique of the medical view of women in 19th-century America. As the keywords suggest, the authors cover many topics. To mention a few: the coming of male dominance in medicine; the patronizing and disabling characterization of women as "weak, dependent, diseased," and naturally patients; S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell and his treatment of Charlotte Perkins Gilman; the social role of female invalidism in upper middle class culture; the "scientific" view of woman as evolutionarily devolved; and what the authors call "the expert-woman relationship."

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Various Antidotes

Scott, Joanna

Last Updated: Oct-16-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Some interesting and very odd characters (including a few scientists and researchers) inhabit the eleven short stories in this collection. In "Concerning Mold Upon the Skin, Etc.," Anton van Leeuwenhoek creates his first microscope and becomes so absorbed by the invisible worlds revealed to him that he neglects his own family. "Nowhere" is the tale of an old anatomy professor who aspires to spice up the curriculum by obtaining a corpse for his students to study. "Tumbling" recounts the difficult life of a young woman understandably haunted by the possibility that she may inherit Huntington’s chorea from her father and her inspired liberation of over one thousand laboratory mice.

In "Chloroform Jags," a professional midwife self-experiments with chloroform "not to escape time but to dissolve time." Other stories describe the execution of an elephant; the murder of a physician who happens to be an important figure in the French Revolution; a woman with a talent for insomnia who has not slept for six months; a psychoanalyst and his patient; an eighteenth century blind beekeeper; and Dorothea Dix, an early advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author, a Canadian physician-historian-educator, blows the dust off the shelves of medical history with this fascinating text designed for medical students, educators, and those with an interest in history of medicine. Duffin begins this survey of the history of Western medicine with a glimpse at a pedagogical tool designed to spark the interest of even the most tunnel visioned medical students: a game of heroes and villains. In the game, students choose a figure from a cast of characters selected from a gallery of names in the history of medicine.

Using primary and secondary sources, the students decide whether the figures were villains or heroes. The winner of the game is the student who first recognizes that whether a person is a villain or hero depends on how you look at it. This philosophy imbues the entire book, as this treatise is not a tired litany of dates, names and discoveries, but rather a cultural history of the various times in which medical events occurred.

The book is organized by topics which roughly follow a medical school curriculum: anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, health care delivery systems, epidemiology, hematology, physical diagnosis and technology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and family medicine. The last chapter, entitled "Sleuthing and Science: How to Research a Question in Medical History," gives guidance to formulating a research question and searching for source material. Fifty-five black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout the book, as well as 16 tables.

Direct quotes from historical figures, such as Galen and Laennec, as well as excerpts from writings of eyewitnesses of events, anecdotes and suggestions for discussion, appear in boxes within the chapters. Many of the chapters contain discussion about the formation of professional societies. Each chapter ends with several pages of suggested readings and the third appendix delineates educational objectives for the book and individual chapters. The other two appendices list the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and tools for further study, including titles of library catalogues, and resources in print and on-line.

Although the book is a survey covering multiple eras and topics, each chapter contains choice tidbits of detail. For instance, the chapter on obstetrics and gynecology includes the story and photograph of Dr. James Miranda Barry, the mid-nineteenth century physician, surgeon and British military officer, who was discovered to be a woman at the time of her death. The impact of the stethoscope on the practice of medicine is explored in depth in the chapter, "Technology and Disease: The Stethoscope and Physical Diagnosis."

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Vaccination

Rivera, Diego

Last Updated: Feb-16-2000
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Charcoal

Summary:

This sketch is teeming with images: in what appears to be a science lab, two researchers stand in the background, surrounded by gray lab equipment; one peers into a microscope. In the bottom of the frame a horse and cow flank three sheep. At the center stands a muscular baby, loosely draped in a white cloth and held up by a nurse in a white apron and cap. To his left stands a rather grim looking doctor, who holds the baby's arm with one hand and injects a vaccine with the other.

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The Doctor's Dilemma

Shaw, George Bernard

Last Updated: Jan-24-2000
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

The story opens on the day that Ridgeon, a prominent research doctor, is knighted. His friends gather to congratulate him. The friends include Sir Patrick, a distinguished old physician; Walpole, an aggressive surgeon; Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, a charismatic society doctor; and Blenkinsop, a threadbare but honest government doctor. Each one has his favorite theory of illness and method of cure. These are incompatible--one man's cure is another man's poison. Nonetheless, they all get along.

A young woman (Mrs. Dubechat) desperately seeks help for her husband from Ridgeon, who has evidently found a way to cure consumption by "stimulating the phagocytes." Ridgeon initially refuses, but changes his mind for two reasons--Dubechat is a fine artist and Ridgeon is smitten with his wife.

When the doctors meet Dubechat, however, they find that he is a dishonest scoundrel. Ridgeon eventually decides to treat Blenkinsop (who also has consumption) and refer the artist to Bloomfield Bonington, this insuring that he will die. In the end Ridgeon justifies his behavior as a plan to let Dubechat die before his wife find out what an amoral cad he actually was. This, in fact, happens and Dubechat's artistic reputation soars.

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The Giant, O'Brien

Mantel, Hilary

Last Updated: Oct-27-1999
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Loosely based on true events in the eighteenth century, this novel chronicles the intersection of two lives. Charles O'Brien, an exceptionally large man, travels along with friends from Ireland to England to exhibit himself. He is a giant in more ways than one. In addition to his immense size, he is also intelligent, compassionate, articulate, and a gifted storyteller.

John Hunter, a Scottish anatomist and scientist, is obsessed with experimentation, discovery, and collection. He instructs graverobbers, dissects corpses, and self-experiments with syphilis. Although both men are remarkable and abnormal, it is the scientist rather than the giant who emerges as the genuine freak.

After the colossus dies, Hunter purchases O'Briens's body for study and his collection. At the end of the story, the giant's bones still hang in permanent display but Hunter's portrait is noted to be fading toward extinction.

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