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A Short History of Medicine

, 272 pages

22 halftones, 1 line drawing

March 2016



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A Short History of Medicine
revised and expanded edition


Erwin H. Ackerknecht’s A Short History of Medicine is a concise narrative, long appreciated by students in the history of medicine, medical students, historians, and medical professionals as well as all those seeking to understand the history of medicine.

Covering the broad sweep of discoveries from parasitic worms to bacilli and x-rays, and highlighting physicians and scientists from Hippocrates and Galen to Pasteur, Koch, and Roentgen, Ackerknecht narrates Western and Eastern civilization’s work at identifying and curing disease. He follows these discoveries from the library to the bedside, hospital, and laboratory, illuminating how basic biological sciences interacted with clinical practice over time. But his story is more than one of laudable scientific and therapeutic achievement. Ackerknecht also points toward the social, ecological, economic, and political conditions that shape the incidence of disease. Improvements in health, Ackerknecht argues, depend on more than laboratory knowledge: they also require that we improve the lives of ordinary men and women by altering social conditions such as poverty and hunger.

This revised and expanded edition includes a new foreword and concluding biographical essay by Charles E. Rosenberg, Ackerknecht’s former student and a distinguished historian of medicine. A new bibliographic essay by Lisa Haushofer explores recent scholarship in the history of medicine.

Erwin H. Ackerknecht (1906–1988), a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Zurich from 1957 to 1971 and one of the world’s most distinguished medical historians, was the author of Short History of Psychiatry and Medicine at the Paris Hospital, 1794–1848. Charles E. Rosenberg is the Ernest E. Monrad Professor in the Social Sciences and professor of the history of science emeritus at Harvard University. He is the author of Our Present Complaint: American Medicine, Then and Now and The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866.

"A concise, readable, and authoritative introduction to the history of medicine."

"At first glance it seems inconceivable that a historian could, in a brief text, adequately capture the history of medicine from primitive times through early civilizations, classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and up to the mid-twentieth century. Edwin H. Ackerknecht accomplishes this task and he does it with verve, clarity, and style."

"This History fills a real gap. The author has succeeded in presenting the history of medicine in a well-balanced way that makes fascinating reading. In all this is a well-rounded book which [should be] in every medical student's hands."

"...A Short History of Medicine is a useful resource for those interested in studying Western medicine."

"Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers and faculty; professionals and practitioners."

"In the publication A Short History of Medicine by Erwin H. Ackernect, Revised and Expanded, the author gives a relatively concise, but demanding exploration and examination of the background of medicine... The potential lifesaving and life-enhanching information regarding this vital concern is highly recommended for the enlightenment and the education of the reader."

"Both as an account of the past and as an object of study, then, A Short History of Medicine is a book with which it is well worth engaging."

"... the combination of his guide to Western medical developments, Rosenberg’s foreword and essay and Haushofer’s bibliographical essay, should ensure that Ackerknecht’s A Short History of Medicine continues to warrant a place on our reading lists, especially for those courses directed at medical students."

"...concise and engaging..."

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