A Short History of Medicine

Gonzalez-Crussi, Frank

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin
  • Date of entry: May-30-2013
  • Last revised: May-24-2016


In this volume, Gonzalez-Crussi trains his sights on medical history, applying his lyrical writing skills to essays that he hopes will help preserve the humanistic core of the medical profession. Because of its brevity (250 pages), he apologizes for its focus on "Western medicine since the inception of the scientific method"(p.xi), but does note that he acknowledges "the continuity between ancient and modern medicine...[and] the contributions of the Orient, and of epochs predating the dominance of the rational spirit" (p.xi).What distinguishes this volume beyond the writing is the thematic organization. It begins with the Rise of Anatomy and Surgery, but then moves to Vitalism and Mechanism, The Mystery of Procreation,  and Pestilence and Mankind, before finishing with a look at Concepts of Disease, The Diagnostic Process and Therapy (including a brief focus on psychiatry). In the last section, Some Concluding Thoughts, Gonzalez-Crussi returns to his motivations for writing this short history, citing the mixed blessings of scientific progress whose gains, for example, are offset by those who "appear to try to 'medicalize' every aspect of human life" (p.210).


I believe that this book is a fruitful read for students entering medical school as well as for their medical humanities teachers trained in fields outside of history. Gonzalez-Crussi writes with an elegant impishness, providing an adequate foundation as well as very colorful accounts of the lives and times of those critical to the medical profession's development.


Frank Gonzalez-Crussi has had a distinguished career at the intersection of the humanities and medicine for many decades while engaged fully in his work as an academic clinical pathologist (recently retired). He has authored sixteen books of essays (in two languages) that earned high praise from literary critics. In English, these books are: Notes of an Anatomist (Harcourt Brace, 1985); Three Forms of Sudden Death (Harper & Row, 1986); On the Nature of Things Erotic (Harcourt Brace, 1988); The Five Senses (Harcourt Brace, 1989); The Day of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections (Harcourt Brace, 1993); Suspended Animation (Harcourt Brace, 1995); There is a World Elsewhere (Riverhead Books, 1998); On Being Born and Other Difficulties (Overlook Press, 2004); On Seeing. Things Seen, Unseen and Obscene. (Overlook Press, New York, 2006); A Short History of Medicine, (Random House, Modern Library Chronicles, 2007); and Carrying the Heart (Kaplan Publishing, 2009). To these are added five books originally written in the Spanish language and published in Mexico: "Partir es Morir un Poco" (U.N.A.M., 1996); a translation from French to Spanish of a work of Paul Valéry,"Discurso a los Cirujanos" (Verdehalago, 1998); "Venir al Mundo" (Verdehalago, 2006); "La Fábrica del Cuerpo" (Turner, Ortega y Ortiz, 2006); and "Horas Chinas" (Siglo XXI, Mexico) a reflection on various aspects of the millenarian Chinese culture, together with impressions collected by the author during his travels through the Far East. A sixth book, Remedios de Antaño has been accepted for publication in late 2012 (Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico).



Place Published

New York



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