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Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,139 ratings  ·  106 reviews
An eminently readable, entertaining romp through the history of our vain and valiant efforts to heal ourselves. Mankind's battle to stay alive and healthy for as long as possible is our oldest, most universal struggle. With his characteristic wit and vastly informed historical scope, Roy Porter examines the war fought between disease and doctors on the battleground of the ...more
Paperback, 199 pages
Published June 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 31st 2002)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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This is one of those ‘surrogate’ books – I bought it because I really wanted something else, so any disappointment is my own fault.

The book I wanted was Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, his mammoth tome on the history of medicine, but my friendly neighbourhood bookshops never seem to have it when I'm in the mood. Instead, I bought this, which I thought might tide me over.

To be fair, the clue is in the title. This history of medicine really is short – if you take off the notes, bibliogra
Jeannette Nikolova
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

I found this book in the most random way possible - I was visiting the apartment of a colleague of mine and, of course, browsing through her bookshelf, when I saw this title. Being a fan of everything creepy, weird and morbid, I asked her about the book and she told me that it was left in the apartment by the previous tenant. Quite the book to abandon, huh?

In all honesty, Blood and Guts is not the most bloody book out there. In fact, it's very far fro
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: morbid-books
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. Roy Porter was a professor on the social history of medicine at University College London. His skill at delivering cogent, interesting lectures is readily apparent in this book. I wish I’d been able to sit in on his classes.

Blood and Guts breaks the long history of medicine into easily digestible chunks: Disease, Doctors, The Laboratory, Surgery, The Hospital. Each chapter sweeps over the span of medicine, picking out the choicest tidbits
Courtney Johnston
Feb 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed, science
Factoids ahoy!

A slim introduction to the history of Western illness and medicine, with eight themes (disease; doctors; therapies; etc) addressed chronologically. Like the Sherwin Nuland book I read earlier in summer, 'Blood and Guts' illustrates how respect for conventions can lead people to ignore or attempt to explain away evidence that appears 'contrary', and how much we like a good framework (4 seasons, 4 humours), even if we have to jiggle the facts around to fit in.

My favourite chapter was
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This didn't really work for me as a history of medicine, even a short one. Each chapter treads the same ground, but with a different theme, instead of following the history of medicine through chronologically.

That's not to say it wasn't interesting in places, and I liked the inclusion of so many images to go along with the text, but it didn't feel like there was anything to get my teeth into. I felt like it would have been much better done chronologically, even if it was in broad swathes of tim
"The dread of disease, potential and actual, the pains of acute complaints and long-term ailments, and the terror of mortality number among our most universal and formidable experiences."
I intend to read Roy Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity at some point; until and before then, I thought I'd read his much condensed introduction to medicine, Blood & Guts. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on one aspect of medicine from a historical p
Mar 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fast and interesting look at how medicine has evolved over the centuries (or even millenia). With such an enormous field to cover it's inevitable that Porter's account is very sketchy, but this is a book designed to get the reader started rather than give them detail.

The story is told by topic rather than chronologically; there's a bibliography arranged by chapter for those who want to explore any subject in depth. I found it extremely easy to read and thought-provoking.
Julie Morales
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've always been fascinated by medicine, and the history of medicine captivates me. This book is a crash course on a little bit of everything, from ancient medicine to today.
The book begins with a discussion about various diseases and the arguments about how those diseases spread. We read about mysterious plagues, smallpox, tuberculosis, then more modern diseases, or at least diseases that now had names and that we now had more of an understanding.
Doctors are discussed next, from ancient healers
Duncan Wilson
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant brief history of various aspects of medicine. Roy Porter has an accessible style that is educational and informative without ever being dry and obtuse. Great little primer from which you can discover themes snd people to explore in further depth.
Stuart Black
Nov 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
By no means a bad book and it does cover the history of medicine as would be expected in a volume of this length. To those complaining that it is too brief I would have to respond with this question: why did you buy a book on the history of medicine that is stated online to be just 169 pages long after the deduction of notes? If purchased in a shop it is surely EVEN MORE OBVIOUS that intricate detail will not be found inside. I digress...

Anyway, worth a read if you want to put medical and surgic
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good introduction to the history of medicine; however, it is very much that: an introduction. If you have any background at all in the study of the history of medicine, then this will be a reiteration of basic historical and theoretical knowledge. It is, like all of Roy Porter's work, a joy to read: lively, atmospheric, and engaging. Certainly a solid choice for a first foray into the subject, especially since the further reading section is full of great suggestions. The included images a ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Well, it's all in the title, it's a 'short history of medicine' so, here we have a romp through a vast topic that doesn't leave much space (sadly) for big informations, even relevant anecdotes. The whole indeed is just a fast paced race focusing on things that are quite common knowledge (from the big names to the issues now faced by our modern health care system), providing each time just that little bit extra details to make it all interesting. It's still a great introduction, and, its structu ...more
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
This was a big disappointment. I know the subtitle includes the word "short" but this is far too brief. It reads more like an annotated outline of points the author wanted to cover in greater depth than an actual history. To be fair, this was published posthumously and I can't help thinking Mr. Porter wasn't quite done with it when he died. It's unfortunate that he didn't get a chance to finish because so many of the topics are interesting, and his take on the controversies is so well informed a ...more
Dec 12, 2008 rated it liked it
For non-fiction this book was unusually atmospheric. Reading it was like strolling through a musty and over-stocked curiosity shop where papers have browned edges and specimens are sprawled on pins or suspended in jars. It's also inundating in the same way, full of quizzical facts that I loved observing but couldn't remember after closing the cover. ...more
Mrs Reddy Mallender-Katzy
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Dennis Littrell
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
A quick and unsettling read

In a sense this is a "lite" version of the late Roy Porter's well-received history of medicine from 1997, entitled The Greatest Benefit to Mankind. He is also the editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine (1996) and was until his death professor of social history at University College London.

But let's face it, the history of medicine has not been a pretty story, nor could it have been. Most of history's physicians were flailing about in the dark, the surg
Jack Greenwood
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2020
Porter is a man brimming with knowledge from every orifice, yet sometimes unable to shape his bubbling factual tide into something more coherent.

A masterful command of langauge that can't help but alienate those who aren't diligently brandishing their pocket dictionary as they read. It's a classic case of the academic versus teacher method of imparting knowledge: I'm not sure how much of the extensive wisdom actually stuck in my head.

He'd be the sort of lecturer that'd be fascinating to listen t
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, 2018
This relatively short book is a History of Medicine, taking us from ancient times to the dawn of the 21st Century. I very much enjoyed reading it, and it does give very good information about Medicine.

The first chapter is on Disease, and by the end of the chapter I felt lucky to be hale, healthy, and alive, considering how many ways one might not be hale and healthy. The second chapter is about Doctors, followed by The Body (for centuries, good information on what lies within us was not to be ha
Naomi Ames
Mar 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I read “Blood and Guts” by Roy Porter. The novel is a non-fiction informative book that tells a brief summary of the entire history of medicine. The goal of the book was to inform, and the intended audience was younger adults with the desire of studying medical topics. I don’t think that it was really a book designed to please large numbers of people over a wide range of interests, and was very directed towards certain groups instead. The author did not really have a set argument that I noticed, ...more
Very abridged outline of western medicine, covering: disease, doctors, hospitals, chemistry/laboratory developments.

Started off interesting enough, but quickly turns into a dry list of achievements and dates, perhaps in an effort to fit so much in. I don’t know if I can hold this against the author, he states in the intro he intends for his coverage to be brief and makes no promises to be entertaining. (Except for the title, which sounds more pop-history.)

Some moralizing at the end that doesn’t
Mary Wyman
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was for a class, but I still enjoyed reading it.
It’s a perfect little book about the history of medicine. Short but detailed, focused on the subjects but open to include other tangent details, and big words used but very easy to understand (especially if your not a doctor, nurse, medicine buff, etc. within the med field).
One thing I enjoyed the most out of reading the book is it’s honesty, bluntness, and lack of fear of stating the harsh truths. Forgive me if these seem to be one thing, but
Jul 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a really interesting book.

As a short history of medicine, Roy Porter did a fantastic job of recounting all key points in western medicine's history. In order to keep it short, this did mean skimming over details. But that doesn't mean that it was lacking in any way. The author examined medical history through several levels it occupies in society, whilst managing to keep it (roughly) chronological, and to delineate cultural differences where appropriate. The attempt to try and summarise
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: medical professionals
Shelves: nonfiction
Enlightening and frightening.

I am extremely glad I live in this relatively new era of modern medicine.

The book raises questions about the future of medicine - it will be interesting to see where it is headed technically, clinically, therapeutically and politically.

I liked the fact this book was succinct because at times it felt slightly "textbookish" though that's not surprising given the author's profession.

Worth a read if you're into medicine or medical science.
Kirby R.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medical-volumes
Perhaps I should have paid better attention to the subtitle, but this read was certainly shorter than I had anticipated. That is not to say that I found the book distasteful; it was, in fact, exactly what I had hoped to find, rife with brilliant (if a tad excruciating) medical facts and even pictures and paintings of the eras mentioned. I only wish that certain sections (namely Disease, The Body, and Surgery) had been more fleshed out.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is exactly what it claims to be - a short history of modern medicine. Because it's shorter, there is obviously a lot left unsaid and unexplored and there was one chapter where the parade of names got a bit confusing. But it was very helpful for understanding how we got to where we are now in medicine. I enjoyed it! ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, non-fic
This book is exactly what it says it’s going to be - a short introduction on the history of medicine. Divided up into thematic chapters. Unlike a high percentage of historical books this doesn’t follow a strictly chronological order - annoyingly.
I would recommend it if you’re a fan of the history of medicine.
Monique Smith
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Dnf’d at 50% not for me, this read more like required reading for school. As a layperson this was super dry, I’m not the right audience for this though I do enjoy nonfiction this did nothing for me. I didn’t want to force myself to finish this book, plus I knew I would most likely remember nothing/take anything away from finishing it.
Nathan Velson
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting little book full of fascinating facts about the history of disease, anatomy, medical research, and healthcare. My only complaint is that because its a "short history", at times it falls into just listing names and dates and loses the larger narrative. Very readable however; I'm sure the author's larger works are quite illuminating. ...more
Brock Tarlton
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
A VERY brief history. There were anti-western themes, which is fine, just unwarranted. Also, he placed in dozens of Latin phrases which were only confusing and didn't add anything of value. Finally, he seemed to touch on hundreds of different events with only a few sentences dedicated to each, making a plurality of information easy to forget. ...more
Jun 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exactly what I was looking for, just the right amount of academic depth without alienating my (humanities biased) brain. So interesting and I learned so much but also recognised psychological ideas and names I have previously studied.
Each chapter reads like an essay and the book isn't as focused around novelty facts and 'gore' that the cover suggests.
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Roy's books cover several fields: the history of geology, London, 18th-Century British ideas and society, medicine, madness, quackery, patients and practitioners, literature and art, on which subjects (and others) he published over 200 books are articles.

List of works can be found @ wikipedia ( )

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