Beginning in the 17th century with William Harvey's frustrating effort to persuade his colleagues that blood circulates, the narrative closes in the 1980's, relating the scandalous dispute between Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier over who discovered the AIDS virus. Only one chapter concerns a genuine scientific feud (the lifetime quarrel between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin over the superiority of injectable versus oral polio vaccine); the others recount the noisy contention that accompanies a controversial new idea. All these ideas eventually triumphed, but the speed of their victory depended less on evidence than the personality of the scientist who discovered them. Pugnacious Louis Pasteur loved a fight and generally won by a knockout. Freud never convinced his enemies in the medical profession, who are still denouncing him; his triumph lay in convincing everyone else who mattered, so much so that Freudian analysis became an icon for 20th-century intellectuals. Hellman's rather schematic history revels in heroes and villains, and he occasionally falls into the trap of portraying historical figures who were wrong as stupider or more narrow-minded than those who were right, so sophisticated readers should look elsewhere. Yet the author avoids most clich?s of popular science writing and has clearly read every secondary source. He often reviews works of other historians to illustrate how opinion has changed over the years, pointing out that even Pasteur has been charged with cooking his results and that feminists accuse James Watson and Francis Crick not only of looking down their noses at Rosalind Franklin but of stealing her data to make the model of the DNA molecule that won them the Nobel Prize.
A simple but solid introduction to the history of medicine. (Kirkus Reviews)
In 1761, Dr. Leopold Auenbrugger, a German physician, hit upon a way to read the human body's mysterious inner workings.
By rapping a patient's thorax, he found he could listen to the echo from the chest cavity and identify certain conditions by the sound responses.
The process remains a basic technique for some doctors.
But while Dr. Auenbrugger had made an important diagnostic advance, he was ignored for decades.
The reaction prompted him to declare, "In making public my discoveries, I have not been unconscious of the dangers I must encounter, since it has always been the fate of those who have illustrated or improved the arts and sciences by their discoveries to be beset by envy, malice, hatred, destruction and calumny."
This engaging book documents such reactions in 10 of the most heated controversies and rivalries in medical history and in so doing makes the point that getting to the truth often takes time.
When, for example, William Harvey announced correctly in 1628 that blood circulated, he departed from what was accepted anatomical write that taught, among other things, that the blood began in the liver, nourished the body, and then simply disappeared in the tissues.
Dr. Harvey's detractors nicknamed him "the circulator," a reference to his "circular reasoning."
One declared that at an autopsy a "worme or serpent" have been found coiled up in the cavity of a left ventricle-proof that the blood did not circulate because if it did, the serpent would have been flushed out.
Dr. Harvey's apartment was ransacked and his notes and manuscripts stolen. And he had his share of run-ins with the College of Physicians.
As the authors, Mr. Hellman, puts it, "All of this makes it a bit easier to understand why Harvey might be a bit nervous, and perhaps explains why he walked around with a dagger strapped to his waist."
The other disputes detailed are equally fascinating.
Dr. Claude Bernard and his 19th-century battle with antivivisectionists.
Dr. Luigi Galvani versus Prof. Alessandro Volta over whether electricity was of animal origin.
Louis Pasteur who sometimes "bent the fact somewhat to strengthen his case."
Sigmund Freud "versus Moll, Breuer, Jung and many others."
The bitter polio-vaccine dispute between the gurus Dr. Albert B. Sabin (a weakened virus approach) and Dr. Jonas Salk (a killed virus).
And the recent feud between Dr. Robert C. Gallo of the United States and the French researcher Dr. Luc Montagnier over who had really discovered the AIDS virus.
It is delicious stuff here, and enough to reinforce the often forgotten fact that for all their brilliance, scientists are, after all, only human. (The New York Times, Tuesday, September 4, 2001)
"..This is an interesting book..."(British Medical Journal, 1 September 2001)