The Alarming History of Medicine: Amusing Anecdotes from Hippocrates to Heart Transplants

Gordon, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn
  • Date of entry: Aug-26-2005


The aim of this collage of anecdotes from medical history is largely to entertain, though it is pointedly instructive in its focus on reasons for and results of medical mistakes, misapprehensions, and serendipitous breakthroughs. Gordon's dryly humorous skepticism and general irreverence is balanced by an obvious delight in the intellectual play that characterizes the history of science.

The stories he tells range from Hippocrates to the present with a heavy focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes a good representative collection of visual art and photography documenting moments in medical history upon which Gordon casts a cold but twinkling eye. Chapter titles such as "Discoveries in the Dark," "Sex and its Snags," "Odd Practices," and "Freud, the English Governess and the Smell of Burnt Pudding" give a bit of the book's flavor.


This book is clearly an "inside job" on medical history by a doctor, novelist, and medical journalist of standing; Gordon has written over 40 books on or about medicine, including the Doctor in the House series, widely popular in Great Britain. While his off-handed treatment of "great moments" may sometimes run the risk of offending historians, medical practitioners, or both, he offers readers a sweeping view of the pock-marked landscape of medical history that, in addition to being amusing, raises some provocative questions about how research, discovery, cure, and recovery happen sometimes in spite of daunting obstacles including prejudice, intellectual inertia, factionalism, and inadequate funding.


St. Martin's

Place Published

New York



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