Category History of medicine

What are we scared of?

By and large, those of us in the west live in the least dangerous conditions in human history. Most of us have the basics: food, shelter, safety. We’re unlikely to be killed by wild animals (even other humans) and fatal infectious disease is rare. Life expectancy is long and few of us die in childbirth. […]


E-cigarettes: friend or foe?

I’ve spent the past week immersed in the literature about e-cigarettes. The debate is amazingly polarised, from those who fear e-cigarettes will perpetuate the tobacco epidemic to those who think they could save millions of lives. There is no doubt that smoking tobacco is hugely harmful and e-cigarettes are considerably less toxic to human health. […]

Seeing the world differently: science books

Well, that’s my Christmas list sorted. Some of the most exciting writing being published at the moment will never be listed for the Man Booker, and can’t be found under the label ‘fiction’. If the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2013 is anything to go by, it’s to be found in science. The […]

The immortal lessons of Henrietta Lacks

I’m engrossed in a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, Rebecca Skloot’s engaging and fascinating The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It’s a scientific detective story, a family history, and illustrates the queasy ethical relationship between medical research and the patients who are the subjects of that work. The book tells the story […]

The Undiagnosed – chronic fatigue syndrome and the search for a reason

I’ve written before about chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as M.E. It’s a miserable illness, causing untold suffering to those who have it or care for someone who does. No-one knows exactly why it happens, which means treatments are largely stabs in the dark to see, empirically, what works. So naturally, there was much excitement […]