SEEKING THE CURE:
A History of Medicine in America.
By Ira Rutkow.
Scribner. 356 pp. $28
All surgeons must devise a “way in” to their operation—choosing the entry point and the methodology for each complex procedure. In Seeking the Cure, Ira Rutkow, a surgeon himself, hits upon an elegant approach to the contentious story of American medicine. Throughout his remarkably entertaining account, Rutkow selects telling medical episodes—the tormenting of colonial surgeon Zabdiel Boylston by a violent mob, who believed that his smallpox inoculations spread disease; President James Garfield’s death in 1881 at the hands of his own surgeons, who neglected basic antiseptic techniques in treating his gunshot wound; or doctors’ extraordinary measures in 1926 to save Harry Houdini from appendicitis, which were unsuccessful but underscored clinical advances—to capture the essence of medical knowledge of the day, and place it in a social context.
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Charles Barber, a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale Medical School, is the author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (2008).more from this author >>
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