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Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea, and our Difficulty Swallowing It
Doctors and patients alike trust the medical profession and its therapeutic powers; yet this trust has often been misplaced. Whether prescribing opium or thalidomide, aspirin or antidepressants, doctors have persistently failed to test their favourite ideas - often with catastrophic results. From revolutionary America to Nazi Germany and modern big-pharmaceuticals, this is ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 7th 2010 by Vintage
(first published January 15th 2009)
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If the history of medicine, in the specific sense of "things we take to feel better"--from opium to thalidomide, penicillin to aspirin--sounds at all interesting to you, read this book. That won't apply to most of you, of course. But it was exactly the right opiate for me, and I binge-read the whole book in one day. The author--you get the sense he's a doctor first and a historian second--has a pleasing impatience for quackery both historical and modern. In addition to being a history of specifi ...more
I couldn't get my nose out of it, nor get it out of my thoughts since putting it down. I loved Roy Porter's history of medicine - which Birch is harsh about - and this seemed a wonderful companion. Shorter and with more of a focus, Birch's story is about how little of medicine has done any good, why it is doctors have been so professionally successful while killing most of their patients, and what's finally changed. In essence it's a story about how difficult it is to know whether a treatment wo ...more
Who'd have thought a history of medicine would be such a page-turner? This is really a great book. Brilliant. It's full of fascinating stories about the development and testing (or not) of life-saving drugs. But the main theme is the long, slow process by which the practice of medicine has come to be based on sound research and reliable tests -- at least more so than in most of the past few centuries -- as well as a persistent reliance on opinion and intuition and resistance to fact, experimenta ...more
A hospital doctor looks at the use of drugs in medicine. He starts with a historical overview before focusing on persistent problems which still allow insufficiently tested harmful drugs to be released. Reasons are doctors who prescribe because they think it's better than not offering any help, unpublished negative test results and not enough good large studies.
If you blindly trust your doctor to take care of your health and wisely prescribe your medication then you might not want to read this book. If, on the other hand, you want to read a well-written history of medicine and the foibles and mis-steps of the medical profession then this is the book for you. An absolutely fascinating page turner.