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Medicine and Dissection

If thinking about Katherine's Park's work makes you want to know more about the fascinating history of medicine or of anatomical dissection, here are five books that will be of equal interest. Each of them takes its own distinctive approach to the subject, so even reading all of them will not be an exercise in repetitiveness.

    • Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity (W.W. Norton, 1997). Until his sudden death at 55 a few years ago, Porter was recognized as the most idiosyncratic and intellectually far-ranging member of the international community of medical historians. This book, tracing the relationship of the art of healing to its social causes and consequences, is Porter at his best, taking readers along with him on a delightful ride through time as he describes his own, often irreverent, view of doctors, doctoring, and society in their intertwining development.
    • Jacalyn Duffin, History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction (University of Toronto Press, 1999). Duffin, a recent president of the American Association for the History of Medicine, is as well known for her attractive writing style as she is for her major contributions to scholarship. In this book, she has done what many might consider impossible: filter the long and intricate history of medicine through a lens that shines a bright focus on its endlessly interesting highlights, and do it with a sense of humor.
    • Irvine Loudon, ed., Western Medicine: An Illustrated History (Oxford University Press, 1997). Loudon wants you to see it, but he also wants to be sure that the text is as illuminating as the pictures. He has assembled an international all-star cast of historians to write a series of essays dealing with topics as diverse as Medicine in the Classical World to Epidemics and the Geography of Disease. Each one is a gem in itself. The essay on Medicine and the Renaissance, incidentally, is written by Katherine Park.
    • Sherwin B. Nuland, Doctors: The Biography of Medicine (A.A. Knopf, 1988). If you believe, as I do, that Thomas Carlyle was correct when he wrote, "History is the essence of numerous biographies," you'll love reading this book as much as I loved writing it. I've told the life stories of 13 eminent physicians, from Hippocrates in the classical period to Helen Taussig, who invented the blue-baby operation in the mid-twentieth century. In this way, the history of Western medicine is followed through its intellectual and literary development. The final chapter brings it all together by tracing the history of cardiac transplantation all the way from classical antiquity to its ultimate stages in the present.
    • Charles D. O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels: 1514-1564 (University of California Press, 1964). For insight into human dissection this is the book you want. O'Malley, who died in 1970, was and will always be the ultimate authority on the life and work of Andreas Vesalius, and also an expert scholar of the anatomical studies of Leonardo da Vinci. To historians of medicine--and to everyone else who cares deeply about biography--this book is a classic of its type: beautifully illustrated, clearly written, meticulously documented, and filled with unanticipated pleasures including lengthy letters and other writings by Vesalius himself.

By Sherwin B. Nuland