Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Medical Firsts

Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome
© 2004 Robert Adler
232 pages

A little over a year ago, I read Science Firsts, a fairly enjoyable book that prepared me well for a summer focusing on the history of science and was pick of the week in its time. I wanted to read more from the author, but I had no access to this book, which is identical in approach and different in topic. Like Science Firsts, this book consists of a dozen chapters, each written on a particular innovation or novel approach in the field. The ideas are varied: the first chapter concerns Hippocrates' patient-centered approach to medicine, another addresses the discovery of viral diseases, another is on the development of the Pill, and so on. Most of the innovations have a specific thinker attached, and so most of the book reads like Profiles in Medical History. The later chapters -- concerning topics like the worldwide coordinated effort to destroy smallpox and the human genome project -- focus more on the thing itself rather than the person driving the change. The personality-centered theme of the book isn't necessarily a weakness: these men and women are worth honoring. (I don't think I'd ever heard of Abu Bakr Al-Razi, but I'm glad I have now. According to Adler, he was a man of the Enlightenment before his time.) The chapters read well: I don't think you have to be scientifically literate to enjoy them and learn something, and indeed I think the book is aimed for more casual readers.

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