Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Book

The Worst of Evils: The Fight Against Pain

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 07 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:555
  1. Mathew Zacharias, specialist anaesthetist (
  1. Dunedin Hospital, Dunedin, New Zealand

    Milton thought pain was a perfect misery and the worst of all evils. But Thomas Dormandy has shown us that humans have taken bold and positive steps to remove this evil and misery. In his historical account of the pursuit and conquest of pain the author has explored ancient mythology, literature, philosophy, music, painting, opera, war, famine, disease, and heroism, moving between science, literature, and history of the ancient and new worlds with consummate ease. As someone with limited linguistic and literary skills I found the book somewhat overwhelming but fascinating nevertheless.

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    Thomas Dormandy

    Yale University Press, £19.99/$35, pp 560 ISBN 0 300 11322 6

    Rating: Graphic

    In mythical and ancient times pain was considered a gift of gods; so were the remedies of the time: wine and the poppy. Faith was the basis of everything, including the “painless” deaths of countless martyrs. A multiplicity of saints flourished to help deal with ailments; an example was St Fiacre, whose merciful intervention was sought to relieve irritation around the anus. The …

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