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Doctors: The Biography of Medicine

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From the author of How We Die, the extraordinary story of the development of modern medicine, told through the lives of the physician-scientists who paved the way. How does medical science advance? Popular historians would have us believe that a few heroic individuals, possessing superhuman talents, lead an unselfish quest to better the human condition. But as renowned Yale From the author of How We Die, the extraordinary story of the development of modern medicine, told through the lives of the physician-scientists who paved the way. How does medical science advance? Popular historians would have us believe that a few heroic individuals, possessing superhuman talents, lead an unselfish quest to better the human condition. But as renowned Yale surgeon and medical historian Sherwin B. Nuland shows in this brilliant collection of linked life portraits, the theory bears little resemblance to the truth. Through the centuries, the men and women who have shaped the world of medicine have been not only very human, but also very much the products of their own times and places. Presenting compelling studies of great medical innovators and pioneers, Doctors gives us a fascinating history of modern medicine. Ranging from the legendary Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, to Andreas Vesalius, whose Renaissance masterwork on anatomy offered invaluable new insight into the human body, to Helen Taussig, founder of pediatric cardiology and co-inventor of the original "blue baby" operation, here is a volume filled with the spirit of ideas and the thrill of discovery.


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From the author of How We Die, the extraordinary story of the development of modern medicine, told through the lives of the physician-scientists who paved the way. How does medical science advance? Popular historians would have us believe that a few heroic individuals, possessing superhuman talents, lead an unselfish quest to better the human condition. But as renowned Yale From the author of How We Die, the extraordinary story of the development of modern medicine, told through the lives of the physician-scientists who paved the way. How does medical science advance? Popular historians would have us believe that a few heroic individuals, possessing superhuman talents, lead an unselfish quest to better the human condition. But as renowned Yale surgeon and medical historian Sherwin B. Nuland shows in this brilliant collection of linked life portraits, the theory bears little resemblance to the truth. Through the centuries, the men and women who have shaped the world of medicine have been not only very human, but also very much the products of their own times and places. Presenting compelling studies of great medical innovators and pioneers, Doctors gives us a fascinating history of modern medicine. Ranging from the legendary Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, to Andreas Vesalius, whose Renaissance masterwork on anatomy offered invaluable new insight into the human body, to Helen Taussig, founder of pediatric cardiology and co-inventor of the original "blue baby" operation, here is a volume filled with the spirit of ideas and the thrill of discovery.

30 review for Doctors: The Biography of Medicine

  1. 5 out of 5

    L.

    Whiggish history, at its worst. This book did contain a lot of information, I just wish Nuland had kept his opinions about how science and medicine "should be" out of it. Also, his writing had far too many poetical flourishes for my taste. It was really quite annoying to hear him go on page-long love notes to the scientific methods of certain surgeons and doctors. I was also annoyed by the focus on surgeons, the inherent Western bias, and the complete absence of any mention of the contributions Whiggish history, at its worst. This book did contain a lot of information, I just wish Nuland had kept his opinions about how science and medicine "should be" out of it. Also, his writing had far too many poetical flourishes for my taste. It was really quite annoying to hear him go on page-long love notes to the scientific methods of certain surgeons and doctors. I was also annoyed by the focus on surgeons, the inherent Western bias, and the complete absence of any mention of the contributions of nurses to medicine. It should be titled Doctors (Well, Really, Surgeons): The Biography of a Very Small Portion of Western Medicine.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Essam Munir

    This course is one of the best courses ! The stories of names we read about in books become alive in this course...

  3. 4 out of 5

    David P

    "Doctors " is a passionate history of surgery. There is much more to medicine: drugs, vaccines, epidemics and many other side branches, only sketchily covered here, though they probably deserve their own histories and halls of fame. But the evolution of surgery is a fitting framework for tracing all medical history, and Dr. Nuland, a surgeon himself, knows enough stories to stitch together a fascinating narrative. It is a large book, heavy (4.2 lb), beautifully produced in China: savor it slowl "Doctors " is a passionate history of surgery. There is much more to medicine: drugs, vaccines, epidemics and many other side branches, only sketchily covered here, though they probably deserve their own histories and halls of fame. But the evolution of surgery is a fitting framework for tracing all medical history, and Dr. Nuland, a surgeon himself, knows enough stories to stitch together a fascinating narrative. It is a large book, heavy (4.2 lb), beautifully produced in China: savor it slowly, a chapter at a time. Dr. Nuland is an experienced writer ("How we Die"), sensitive to nuances of personality ("Lost in America" is a touching account of his growing up) and a developed sense of history. The result is a highly personal account, not at all detached, illustrating his belief that medicine, though heavily relying on science and its methods, is primarily an art. Today's educated citizen takes for granted our knowledge of the human body, and rarely appreciates how slow and hesitant was the acquisition of the even the most basic facts about it--e.g. the circulation of blood and the role of microbes in disease. Today's educated citizen might also be surprised at the number of medical problem still unsolved (how do we get headaches, arthritis, cancer? How does the brain work, and interpret what the eye sees?), without realizing that much of today's medicine only emerged in the 19th and 20th century. Nuland goes back to the foundations, to Hippocrates groping in ignorance, to Galen (1st century) who dissected animals (but never human bodies!) and who identified organs with no clear idea of what they did. Also to Vesalius, finally dissecting the dead human and, not having photography available, calling on some of the finest artists of the renaissance to produce careful drawings of what he saw. And to Ambroise Paré, the barber-surgeon who earned skill and knowledge by tending many of the wounded in the religious wars of the 16th century. Even today, surgeons still know far too little of what makes the body tick. Imagine yourself in a similar position--given a working computer and asked to figure out its operation, at first without even opening its case. When you finally do open it, you face a bewildering array of wires and encased circuits, and opening these is still not enough: even to trace the circuitry inside "chips" requires a good microscope, and after that you still need to understand what they do. The task facing medical science is not much easier, and one ought to be amazed at the limited headway achieved. Progress accelerated in the 1600s with understanding of blood circulation and of the heart, though it remained for some determined men and women in the 20th century to perform heart surgery and save lives of "blue babies." The story of Ignac Semmelweis illustrates the uncertainty of progress. Given an insight--through a fatal incident to a fellow surgeon--of the deadly infection which killed mothers after childbirth, he was prevented by his timid character and lack of writing skills from applying his finding on a wider scale and thus saving thousands of lives. You read of Joseph Lister, the gentle Quaker surgeon of Edinburgh, and of Robert Virchow, pursuing twin goals of improving surgery and bettering society. And about the contested origins of anesthesia, about the sprouting of the first modern American school of medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and about surgeries made possible only by heart-lung machines and anti-rejection drugs. This book was first published in 1988; had it been written more recently, it would at least cover laparoscopic surgery, remotely conducted through tiny incisions. It is a story well told, because the author has an insider's insight and information, has traced history to its details (credit the Yale Historical Medicine Library!) and because his style is personal and engaging. If you have a favorite physician, this book may make an appropriate gift. But first, read it yourself!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Steinberg

    This was a fantastic course presented by a surgeon. It would be very hard to choose 12 figures that represent the rise of scientific medicine and the presenter being a surgeon, there is a notable bias towards favouring the evolution of surgery rather than medicine. For example it omits vaccination, antibiotics, and talks about Holstead instead of Osler. Nevertheless this course has revived my interest in the history of medicine and I would strongly recommend it to all doctors.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Juli Kinrich

    I didn't think I'd like this book (I'm more of a novel and memoir kind of reader), but I was on vacation in a foreign country and desperate for something to read. It was so good, I almost wanted to be a doctor upon completing the book!

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

    Surprisingly well written and hardly boring, despite the dense material covered in this comprehensive history of doctors and medicine.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Dr. Nuland's relatively lucid prose is instrumental in bringing to life the realities of the advancement of medical science and knowledge over time. The journey that he takes readers on is one full of maybe even more blood and guts than would be expected with a medical book, as well as far more heart and human interest than such a book could perhaps be expected to provide. To a certain extent, the profiles that Nuland offers here can be a bit repetitive until they reach the more modern examples, Dr. Nuland's relatively lucid prose is instrumental in bringing to life the realities of the advancement of medical science and knowledge over time. The journey that he takes readers on is one full of maybe even more blood and guts than would be expected with a medical book, as well as far more heart and human interest than such a book could perhaps be expected to provide. To a certain extent, the profiles that Nuland offers here can be a bit repetitive until they reach the more modern examples, but even these older ones aren't without interest with regard to both the medicine being practiced and the lives of the practitioners. What I appreciated towards the end of the book was his introduction of the shift in the overall culture of medicine that has occurred in the last several decades, where the whole of society is implicated in decisions regarding medical treatments and experimentation. This, I think, is the core concern of the book even if it doesn't emerge until the end--how does society view human life and well-being, how does culture define life and its antecedents, and how do we as fellow men assist our brother in retaining his health? These are critical questions that Nuland deftly introduces, even if he doesn't provide detailed answers to any of them. All around this book could easily be shorter, but I don't regret any of the time spent in its pages. The characters here are well-rounded and interesting, and perhaps their only flaw is that they are all almost too smart to be believed--but then what did I expect in starting a book about great doctors and great discoveries.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sohvi

    Very basic, and contains several rather silly mistakes. Yes, it makes perfect sense that the sports clothing company Nike was named after Aelius Nicon, the father of Galen and not Nike, the goddess of victory. Seriously. Also, the narrator was so slow I had to listen this at 1,25 speed. And even that was kinda slow.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    Excellent information on medical progress but too wordy The book highlighted Doctors through history and their contributions to better medicine, but sometimes wandered off the story line into unnecessary side stories and worthiness. I learned a lot from the book, and would have given it 5 stars if it hadn't wandered off course so much.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I should clarify that my rating is for the Great Courses lectures from the Teaching Company. Apparently he also has a book on this topic and some of the reviews here seem to be regarding the book, not the lecture series.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jon A.

    Nuland was a wonderful writer. When reading Nuland one believes they are reading a high profile non-fiction author. His words flow easily and precisely. He was a wonderful storyteller. RIP Sherwin.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    The chapter on transplantation felt a little out of place and wasn’t as interesting as the other chapters. Plenty has changed in medicine since the book was published, so some of Nuland’s observations have either proved to be excepted knowledge or outdated.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Interesting, though not as detailed in some areas as I would like. Heavy on surgical history, as you would expect from a surgeon ; )

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Not bad as what it is, but not my thing. The style, which is supposed to be ingratiating, struck me as affected.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rv Tan

    The title may suggest a definitive history of Medicine but the contents presented in the book are mostly based on the development and establishment of Surgical field throughout the history. The chapter outlines the prominent personalities that pioneered a concept, ideas and innovation to the modern practice of Surgery; though he included the history of discovery of bacteriology in one chapter; he failed to include important subjects in Medicine such as genetics, cancer, psychiatry and etc. That' The title may suggest a definitive history of Medicine but the contents presented in the book are mostly based on the development and establishment of Surgical field throughout the history. The chapter outlines the prominent personalities that pioneered a concept, ideas and innovation to the modern practice of Surgery; though he included the history of discovery of bacteriology in one chapter; he failed to include important subjects in Medicine such as genetics, cancer, psychiatry and etc. That's why the title of the book is misleading. Medicine is an extensive field and its history cannot be encapsulated in a concise 400+-page book. Despite of my 3-star rating I still learned a lot as a Doctor of the importance of historical basis of the current practice of Medicine from the biography. Medical Literature gives us a lot of insights paramount in the training and development of Physicians. I think it is time for Medical Institutions to include Medical Literature as one of the subjects in Medical Education. (When it comes to medical literature, I still liked the literary styles of Siddhartha Mukherjee and Oliver Sacks.):)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Stokes

    Although I am only halfway through, my renewed enthusiasm for Sherwin Nuland could no longer be contained. Every time I read a book by Dr. Nuland, I find myself again looking for someone to quote passages aloud to- luckily my husband complies, despite occasionally falling asleep. I cannot keep the perfection and sublime meaning of his stories to myself. This is no exception. While ostensibly the story of medicine, of rather the great personalities who took the big steps to changes the way medici Although I am only halfway through, my renewed enthusiasm for Sherwin Nuland could no longer be contained. Every time I read a book by Dr. Nuland, I find myself again looking for someone to quote passages aloud to- luckily my husband complies, despite occasionally falling asleep. I cannot keep the perfection and sublime meaning of his stories to myself. This is no exception. While ostensibly the story of medicine, of rather the great personalities who took the big steps to changes the way medicine was practiced, understood and taught,- this book is so much more. As Nuland himself points out in the dedication, (to paraphrase) the history of medicine is the history of humankind's search for meaning. It is the tale of us caring for each other.... A great book; alternately entertaining, tragic, uplifting, and enhancing understanding of our roots. Kinda like life. Thank you, Dr. Nuland.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Dr Nuland presents a very good overview of the progress of medical science from the early Hippocratic views of natural medical practices that were based on observation (often getting things wrong) to Galen, (who brought both systematic examination and often dangerous dogma) and finally into the evolution of the scientific method in the field of medical sciences in the near-modern era. The lectures were pleasant and informative. Nuland provides a bit of a bias toward surgery, but it is no way dis Dr Nuland presents a very good overview of the progress of medical science from the early Hippocratic views of natural medical practices that were based on observation (often getting things wrong) to Galen, (who brought both systematic examination and often dangerous dogma) and finally into the evolution of the scientific method in the field of medical sciences in the near-modern era. The lectures were pleasant and informative. Nuland provides a bit of a bias toward surgery, but it is no way distracting from the point of the lectures...which, in my opinion, deals with the scientific progress of medical profession exemplified by the innovative founding doctors and intellectuals. Another good course and well worth the time. As always, recommended when on sale, with a coupon....

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rue Baldry

    This is a very mixed book. For the most part it's very readable and some of the stories in it are vibrant and/or fascinating. However, there's a strong jingoistic bias towards America, sometimes Nuland deviates on a waffling, hectoring stretch of opinion and some of his extended metaphors are ridiculous. Sorry about some of the predictive text typos in comments as I went along. 'Milland' should have been Nuland and 'unlock able' should have been unlikable. Some chapters are a lot stronger than o This is a very mixed book. For the most part it's very readable and some of the stories in it are vibrant and/or fascinating. However, there's a strong jingoistic bias towards America, sometimes Nuland deviates on a waffling, hectoring stretch of opinion and some of his extended metaphors are ridiculous. Sorry about some of the predictive text typos in comments as I went along. 'Milland' should have been Nuland and 'unlock able' should have been unlikable. Some chapters are a lot stronger than others. In most cases this is lead by how interesting its central character is. Highlights for me were anaesthesia, Vesalius, Morgagni, Semmelweis, Lister and Taussig.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott Ableman

    This was one of the first of The Great Courses that I listened to, and I absolutely loved it. Through a series of stories about prominent figures in medical history, you get a real sense of just how recently we relied on "science" that got it all wrong. By focusing on the people who drove the scientific thought of their day, you get a very human sense of why we believed what we did. This series makes you glad to be living in modern times, but also makes you wonder how much more we still are gett This was one of the first of The Great Courses that I listened to, and I absolutely loved it. Through a series of stories about prominent figures in medical history, you get a real sense of just how recently we relied on "science" that got it all wrong. By focusing on the people who drove the scientific thought of their day, you get a very human sense of why we believed what we did. This series makes you glad to be living in modern times, but also makes you wonder how much more we still are getting wrong. I got this on audio CD directly from TheGreatCourses.com, and at just 12 lectures, I finished it in about a week's worth of commuting. I only wish it would have lasted longer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I picked up this book on CD just before a trip, when I realized I was nearly finished with my current CD. It is a fun book to listen to, and, even though I basically know most of what he relates, there were lots of little interesting tidbits. I never knew, for example, that Vesalius died in a shipwreck. My only problem was with author and reader Sherwin Nuland. He is well known in the history of medicine world, but I found I disliked him – well, the him that his voice suggests. He sounded arroga I picked up this book on CD just before a trip, when I realized I was nearly finished with my current CD. It is a fun book to listen to, and, even though I basically know most of what he relates, there were lots of little interesting tidbits. I never knew, for example, that Vesalius died in a shipwreck. My only problem was with author and reader Sherwin Nuland. He is well known in the history of medicine world, but I found I disliked him – well, the him that his voice suggests. He sounded arrogant and dismissive. That is unfair, but I found myself recoiling from his voice several times. STILL, the CD is definitely worth a listen.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zahreen

    Another great Dr. Nuland book - had to read it for his History of Scientific Medicine class - which is a fascinating topic. If you are interested in history, science, or medicine, you should definitely read this book. My only critique of this book (and I voiced this problem to Dr. Nuland) is that it glosses over the contributions made by Arab and Muslim doctors to the medical cannon. Maybe it is because of the nature of the book (which covers the biographies of great doctors/scientists), but I s Another great Dr. Nuland book - had to read it for his History of Scientific Medicine class - which is a fascinating topic. If you are interested in history, science, or medicine, you should definitely read this book. My only critique of this book (and I voiced this problem to Dr. Nuland) is that it glosses over the contributions made by Arab and Muslim doctors to the medical cannon. Maybe it is because of the nature of the book (which covers the biographies of great doctors/scientists), but I still found this problmatic.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    A work of love by a man who loves his work. It is clear that Nuland loves medicine and particularly surgery and it comes across throughout his history of medicine. He uses the biographies of notable innovators (who he notes he particularly finds interesting) to draw this history. Please note that if you are sensitive you might find some of the graphic descriptions painful. Animal lovers are also warned that the discussions of animal experimentation are also going to be painful (more in my opinion A work of love by a man who loves his work. It is clear that Nuland loves medicine and particularly surgery and it comes across throughout his history of medicine. He uses the biographies of notable innovators (who he notes he particularly finds interesting) to draw this history. Please note that if you are sensitive you might find some of the graphic descriptions painful. Animal lovers are also warned that the discussions of animal experimentation are also going to be painful (more in my opinion, since at least the doctors were trying--however unsuccessfully--to help the humans).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scilla

    I didn't read the entire book, but did finish the nine chapters assigned for my ILEAD class in the History of Medicine. The author writes clearly, and I learned a lot, but it was difficult to read more than one or two chapters at once. The History begins with the Aesculapians and Hipparchus and goes all the way through transplants, although my assignments stopped with the rise of medicine in the US with William Stewart Halsted and the beginning of Johns Hopkins Medical School.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shivesh

    Amazing book from an accomplished surgeon and historian. Even though Nuland expresses that he is but an amateur chronicler, this book proves otherwise. Individual portraits of the titans of medicine, arranged in chronological order from Hippocrates to Virginia Apgar. Highly recommended to doctors, and those into the history of science.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel M

    This is a fantastic book for anyone interested in the history of medicine, especially those who are beginners in the field. Dr. Nuland is fascinating, mixing personal anecdotes and seemingly unrelated trivia with the stories of medical giants throughout history. A must-read for anyone interested in medicine.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Crocker

    The eminently humane and readable Sherwin Nuland tackles the history of medicine and its most challenging problems through the lives of 13 of its most notable healer/scientists. Nuland's clear, beautiful writing and selection of detail bring personalities to life while making complex issues and discoveries understandable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Vuković

    Although not being a complete history of medicine, this journey through lives of some of the most influential people in its history is certainly an exciting one and dr. Nuland makes sure it's also incredibly fun!

  28. 5 out of 5

    James M. Madsen, M.D.

    An excellently written history of medicine. Very readable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sriram

    Well told and compelling narrative, several chapters really stand out. The book does suffer from excessive wordiness at points but on the whole a wonderful history.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barry Mann

    Much better as a twelve lecture series than as a book, I recommend getting his Cd recording of the lectures from Great Courses

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