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A History of Surgery.
  1. L E HUGHES, Emeritus Professor
  1. Cardiff, UK

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    A History of Surgery. Harold Ellis. (Pp 264; £29.50.) Greenwich, 2001. ISBN1-84110-023-4.****

    Those who have enjoyed Professor Ellis' lectures on various aspects of surgical history will approach this book with high expectations, and will not be disappointed. He paints 5000 years—and more—of surgical history with a broad brush, and with the same facility that makes his lectures so popular.

    The book is especially informative when dealing with developments from prehistory to the discovery of anaesthesia and antisepsis. Here background information is often given, which sets the developments in the context of the country and its culture at that time. In a book of only 264 pages, and with many illustrations, it is inevitable that coverage of the subsequent logarithmic expansion of surgery and its specialties will be limited. This is compensated to some extent by coverage up to the present, and by the material from the author's personal contacts with recent pioneers and specialisation. It is equally inevitable that brevity will lead to some distortion. An example is the development of surgery for thyrotoxicosis; here the pioneering developments are attributed to American surgeons, whereas it is now widely recognised that their publications “piggybacked” on work much closer to home in the UK and its empire.

    This book will appeal to a wide audience. It is very suitable for any doctor seeking a concise, informative, and easily read account of the development of modern surgery. It will also be of interest to lay people—as well as helpful background information, technical terms are often clarified (for example, “neonatal tetanus—lockjaw in infants”, although today's informed layman may be more familiar with neonatal tetanus than lockjaw!) Young surgeons will also enjoy reading it, but a book of this length, without source material referenced, cannot satisfy surgeons seeking detailed general information, especially on the history of the specialties. However, for these there is a list of recommended further reading, which includes the incomparable book by the Wangensteen husband and wife team—the “Ian Aird” of surgical history.

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