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4.08  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  37 reviews
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.

Hardcover, 519 pages
Published May 12th 1988 by Knopf (first published 1988)
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4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  345 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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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.
Essam Munir
This course is one of the best courses !
The stories of names we read about in books become alive in this course...
Jan 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
David P
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 ...more
Juli Kinrich
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly well written and hardly boring, despite the dense material covered in this comprehensive history of doctors and medicine.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
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.
Jon A.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical
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.
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not bad as what it is, but not my thing. The style, which is supposed to be ingratiating, struck me as affected.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine
Interesting, though not as detailed in some areas as I would like. Heavy on surgical history, as you would expect from a surgeon ; )
Gretchen Stokes
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tgc
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 ...more
Scott Ableman
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anybody who is naturally curious
Recommended to Scott by: Reviews by customers on
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 ...more
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
Rue Baldry
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic
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 ...more
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
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Rachel M
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone remotely interested in medicine
Recommended to Rachel by: the author
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.
Carolyn Crocker
Feb 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Doctors, Nurses, Historians
Shelves: medical
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.
Ivan Vuković
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-science
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!
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A bit boring--almost like a textbook. We'll see . . .I may give it a few more pages.
Brad Mclaws
This is a book about about 12 famous doctors that traces the history of medicine from Antiquity to the present.
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, history
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.
Barry Mann
Feb 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much better as a twelve lecture series than as a book, I recommend getting his Cd recording of the lectures from Great Courses
Couldn't finish this. Good stories buried in flowery, rambling writing with too much of the author's opinion on what-should-have-been.
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Sherwin Nuland was an American surgeon and author who taught bioethics and medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. He was the author of The New York Times bestseller and National Book Award winning How We Die, and has also written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New Republic, Time, and the New York Review of Books.

His NYTimes obit: