In their introduction to this anthology, the editors write that their goal is "to illustrate and to illuminate the many ways in which medicine and culture combine to shape our values and traditions." Using selections from important literary, philosophical, religious, and medical texts, as well as illustrations, they explore, from a historical perspective, the interactions between medicine and culture. The book is arranged in nine major topical areas: the human form divine, the body secularized, anatomy and destiny, psyche and soma, characteristics of healers, the contaminated and the pure, medical research, the social role of hospitals, and the cultural construction of pain, suffering, and death.

Within each section, a cluster of well-chosen (and often provocative) texts and drawings illuminate the topic. Specifically, literary selections include poems by W. D. Snodgrass ("An Envoi, Post-TURP"), William Wordsworth ("Goody Blake and Harry Gill: A True Story"), and Philip Larkin ("Aubade"); and prose or prose excerpts by Robert Burton ("The Anatomy of Melancholy"), Zora Neale Hurston (My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience), Sara Lawrence Lightfoot ("Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer"), William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness), George Orwell ("How the Poor Die"), Ernest Hemingway (Indian Camp), and Paul Monette (Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir). (The full texts of the pieces by Hurston, Styron, Hemingway, and Monette have been annotated in this database.)


This book is particularly effective in its juxtaposition of literary texts with classic scientific articles (e.g. Harvey, Semmelweiss, Bernard, Lister, Pasteur) and provocative historical documents, (e.g. the report of a 17th century clerical investigation regarding the alleged stigmata of Sister Benedetta Carlini, an abbess who "pretended to be a mystic, but who was discovered to be a woman of ill-repute.")

Medicine and Western Civilization could well serve as the organizing text for a survey course on social issues in medicine. In that respect, though, the book is somewhat deficient because the editors do not provide a brief explanatory introduction to focus each of the nine sections. Nonetheless, medical humanists are likely to find this anthology a useful resource for teaching and scholarship.


Rutgers Univ. Press

Place Published

New Brunswick, N.J.




David J. Rothman, Steven Marcus, & Stephanie A. Kiceluk

Page Count