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A Brief History of Medicine

Our understanding of medical practice today is often greatly enhanced by an appreciation of the long and complex journey that got us to where we are. Understanding that medical developments are not an unbroken chain of inevitable discoveries is key to our understanding, and that things could perhaps have been very different in the modern world had they developed differently. This book by Paul Strathern takes aspiring medical students through the foundations of medicine to show how we got to where we are today. Written in a clear and highly approachable fashion it provides an invaluable insight into the development of modern medicine.

The foundations for the scientific study of the body and modern Western medicine as we know it started with William Harvey's discovery of the circulatory system in the early 17th century. But its roots stretch back as far as ancient Greece, when medicine first departed from the divine and the mystical and moved toward observation and logic. Its early development was slow, constrained by the taboo around dissection (only external symptoms could be used for diagnosis), as well as superstition and mysticism (illness was the work of demons and pixies and curable only by penitence).