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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Medicine by Briony Hudson, illustrated by Nick Taylor

From the game doctor who consumed the vomit of someone who had yellow fever to prove it wasn’t contagious, to the unscrupulous grave robbers who cashed in cadavers for medical research, to the life-giving miracle of donor transplants…the history of medicine teems with astonishing breakthroughs, ethical quandaries and outright skulduggery.

This comprehensive tome about how humans revolutionised healthcare over the ages will appeal to any tween or teen (or as in my case, adult) with an appetite for fascinating facts and gory details. While the book isn’t shy about pointing out the misadventures and mishaps along the way, after reading this, you can’t help but mentally applaud the cumulative efforts and bravery of the pioneers worldwide, over time, that have helped extend the lives of their fellow humans.

While the history of medicine inevitably deals with a proliferation of Western white males, the author has done her darndest to include discoveries and practices from around the globe. So as well as Pasteur, Snow, Koch et al, you’ll discover the Japanese surgeon who created a plant-based anaesthetic in the 1700s, and De materia medica, the five-volume classic about medicinal plants, minerals and animals written by a Greek army physician which was shared for more than 1500 years in the Arab world and Europe.. You’ll also learn of the women who contributed to medicinal science, such as British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who used X-ray crystallography to reveal the molecular structure of insulin, penicillin and vitamin B12; and one of the first women to get a medical degree, Dossibai Patel, who was made an MBE in 1941 for her work for the Red Cross in India during the Second World War.

The striking illustrations look like they’ve come straight out of a 50s annual; a nod to the historical subject matter. The paper stock is pleasingly thick and robust, enough to withstand multiple plucks. The tone is measured and trustworthy, and treats the reader as an intelligent being, but helpfully, there’s a generous glossary at the back. Outstanding.

Reviewer: Stacey Anyan

Allen & Unwin


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