Views & Reviews Medical Classics

On the Edge of the Primeval Forest

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7930 (Published 26 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7930
  1. Kate Robertson, specialty doctor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Shropshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Shrewsbury SY1 3GZ, UK
  1. kate.robertson{at}doctors.org.uk

When read with contemporary eyes, Albert Schweitzer’s book, subtitled “Experiences and Observations of a Doctor in Equatorial Africa,” is a disconcerting mix of startling racism and yet still pertinent commentary on African suffering. Schweitzer, a Christian missionary, physician, philosopher, and musician who qualified in medicine at the age of 38, funded his first trip to the Ogowe (or Ogooué) River with organ recitals and a book on Bach. The description of trying to land a piano (“built for the tropics”) and 70 cases by dugout canoe is both surreal and understated. His wife was a nurse and their approach to medicine was cutting edge scientific (they were intrigued by sleeping sickness trypanosomes in the blood), hygienic (Mrs Schweitzer washes a lot of bandages), …

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