Medicine And Books

Autumn books: Medical Blunders. Amazing True Stories of Mad, Bad and Dangerous Doctors

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 19 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1019
  1. D John Doyle

    Robert M Youngson, Ian Schott Robinson, £6.99, pp 407 ISBN 1–35487-259-1

    The result of a collaboration between a physician and a journalist, this book claims to be “the definitive account of virtually every medical mishap and scandal of modern and not so modern times.” Many readers seeking to learn about the darker side of recent medical history will be enthralled with the volume, which presents an exposition of a large number of clinical topics.

    These include the rise and fall of lobotomy and other discarded forms of surgery, as well such topics as the drugging of Adolf Hitler with amphetamines, unethical wartime experiments using prisoners and concentration camp victims, the disastrous use of diethylstilboestrol, and the inappropriate use of x rays in the early days after their discovery.

    Each topic is sketched briefly over several pages or less, and, in keeping with this cursory style, no attempt is made to deal with any subject thoroughly or definitively.

    Although the book is an easy read, even for lay readers, a lack of scholarship makes the authors' efforts less valuable than I had hoped for.

    For example, no footnotes or references are provided to support any of the authors' claims, some of which are difficult to believe. In the same vein many clinicians may be surprised to see diagnostic liver biopsy described as “a horrendously dangerous and painful procedure” or lumbar puncture as “a painful and potentially lethal process” in which the patient is “strapped down.”

    Those readers looking for light medical reading in the tabloid tradition will delight in this book. Those seeking definitive accounts of medical misadventures should look elsewhere.—D JOHN DOYLE, staff anaesthetist, Toronto Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


    The importance of plants in the cultures of indigenous peoples, their economic role in worldwide trade, and particularly their use in healing are the themes of Plants, People, and Culture. The Science of Ethnobotany (Scientific American, £19.95, ISSN 1040 3213). Written by Michael J Balick and Paul Alan Cox from their experience of fieldwork in the tropics for a general audience and extensively illustrated, it emphasises the need to take native plant use seriously (the picture shows the preparation in Samoa of a tea from the stem of Homalanthus nutans for treating hepatitis and which is a possible candidate for treating AIDS), and to ensure that conservation maintains the diversity of plant species.

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