BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 22 May 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1428
  • The proposal to replace the misleading term mongolism with Down's syndrome was made in a letter to the Lancet in 1961, almost a century after Langton Down published the first description of the condition. Judging by this biography, John Langdon Down—A Caring Pioneer (O C Ward, Royal Society of Medicine Press, £15.95, ISBN 1 85315 375 5), he deserved the honour of a medical eponym not only for his accurate clinical observations but for his lifelong campaigning for people with mental handicap. He and his wife established Normansfield, a large house near the Thames at Teddington, as an institution where people with learning difficulties could be cared for as if they were members of his extended family. John's son, Reginald, also a doctor, noticed and described the characteristic transverse palmar crease of people with Down's syndrome and, rather poignantly, had a child who suffered from the condition.

  • Essential Psychopharmacology (S M Stahl, Cambridge University Press, £32.50, ISBN 0 521 62892 X) is now available as a CD Rom. The book, first published three years ago, was outstanding for its many clear and colourful diagrams. It translates well into the new medium—the diagrams are even better with animation, and the voice-over will save postliterary students the trouble of having to work out what the legends mean.

  • There is, apparently, a German proverb that says there are more old wine drinkers than old doctors. One ought to be sceptical of this sort of maxim—especially when it comes from a country famous for its vineyards. But it does show that ideas about the beneficial effects of alcohol on health are far from new. The notorious J shaped curve was discussed again at a Novartis Foundation symposium—Alcohol and Cardiovascular Diseases. Novartis Foundation Symposium 216 (John Wiley and Sons, £57.50, ISBN 0 471 97769 1). As an epidemiological phenomenon, it is remarkably consistent but, apart from an alteration in plasma lipid concentrations, the biochemical explanation is elusive. A classicist friend tells me that the original symposia in ancient Greece were often little more than drinking parties. So perhaps it is faintly ironic that the participants in this one were wary of advocating the health promoting effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

  • There has been no shortage of people willing to comment on the epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Mad Cows and Modernity (ed I McCalman, B Penny, M Cook, Humanities Research Centre Monograph Series No 13, $A29.95, ISBN 0 7315 3305 4) presents an Australian perspective. It's a heterogeneous collection of essays, the subjects of which range from the evaluation of risk to the emblematic importance of roast beef in English culture.

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