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By M J Eadie and P F Bladin. (Pp 248; £24.) John Libbey, 2001. ISBN 0-86196-607-4.
Written by two Australian epileptologists this book follows the historical concepts of epilepsy, ranging from mythological early views of the supernatural to the modern concepts of pathophysiology and treatment. Part I is a short outline of the present understanding of epilepsy including definition and classification. Parts II, III, and IV cover the clinical manifestations of epilepsy, the nature of the epileptic process and remedies, each examined from an historical viewpoint.
Some ancients believed in the influence of bodily humours in triggering seizures, while others felt that sufferers from this malady had supernatural powers or were influenced by spirits or demons. Gradually, however, the concept of epilepsy as an illness with an underlying organic process began to be accepted along with a better comprehension of the origins and mechanisms of epileptic activity within the brain. The influence of Hughlings Jackson and the gradual acceptance of his views by his contemporaries makes particularly interesting reading.
With regard to treatments for epilepsy the early remedies are discussed; this is followed by reference to the discovery of the effectiveness of bromide, more recent drug treatments and, ultimately, the evolution of the “designer” drugs.
A major feature of the text is the liberal use of historical quotations supplemented by an extensive historical bibliography. Overall this book provides a fascinating trip through history, following our understanding of this intriguing condition through to the present state of knowledge. It is recommended to anyone with an interest in the history of medicine and of epilepsy in particular.