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A History ofMedicine, Vol. II: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine. By Henry E. Sigerist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Pp. xvi+352. fllus. $11.00. Henry E. Sigerist, unquestionably the outstanding medical historian of this century, died suddenly in the spring of1957. The loss to the world ofscholarship was particularly poignant because it interrupted Sigerist's heroic project ofan encyclopedic eight-volume history ofmedicine, only the first volume ofwhich had previously appeared. The eagerly awaited second volume on which he had been working during the last years ofhis life has now been posthumously published. This book cannot be evaluated without consideration ofthe total project and of the man who envisioned it. In his preface to the first volume, John F. Fulton wrote, "Dr. Sigerist is probably the only living scholar who has both the training and the vision to approach the development ofmedicine on this vast scale." No one would question the validity ofthis statement. Sigerist had planned his work for many years and brought to it a depth ofscholastic attainment, an all-embracing concept ofthe relation ofmedicine to general culture, and a universal humanity that concerned itselfwith all aspects oflife. The beginning ofhis self-imposed gigantic task wasunfortunately long delayed, inpart because ofcircumstances beyond his control. When once begun it required a staggering amount of work which involved re-study of all the basic material and even re-learning various languages inwhichthey were originallywritten. The realization ofthemagnitude ofthe task he had undertaken together with the consciousness offailing health brought to him the awareness that he would be unable to complete it. At the close ofhis manuscript for the second volume, before he could bring it to the degree ofperfection characteristic of all his previous writings, he appended the handwritten message, "Here the legacy ends." The unfinished state ofthe manuscript created an almost insuperable problem for the publisher. To print the book in unfinished form would have been unjust to so meticulous a scholar and author. To deprive the world ofthis long anticipated work, on the other hand, would have been a greater loss. It was fortunate, therefore, that Dr. Ludwig Edelstein , Sigerist's long-time colleague and himselfan eminent scholar ofclassical antiquity, undertook, with theaid ofDr. Miriam Drabkin,the finalpreparationofthemanuscript for publication. Therespect which existedbetweenthesetwo menis evidenced inthe skilland judgment with which the material was edited. In obeisance to the memory of Sigerist, Dr. Edelstein consciously refrained from adding any additional material even though he was convinced that Sigerist probably would have done so, feeling that "those concerned with the history ofmedicine are entitled to read this last writing in the form he gave it." This book, in essence, follows the pattern introduced in the earlier volume, which was intended to be maintained throughout the work. This strongly stressed the social background and the cultural setting of each civilization under discussion and the need for awareness ofgeography and economics as primary factors determining health conditions. Each ofthefour sections, dealing successivelywith "Archaic Medicine inGreece," "Hindu Medicine," "Medicine in Ancient Persia," and "The Golden Age ofGreek Medicine," is a superb exposition ofthe knowledge basicto the understanding ofthe theories andpractice 379 ofmedicine inthe variouscultures ofthepast. Itis lamentable that the author was not able to round out these background studies with the detailed development ofthe subjects they introduced to the degree he probably intended. This incompleteness notwithstanding, the book is immensely rewarding. It is beautifully written and highly informative and relates the past to the present as only a historian with the breadth ofconcept ofSigerist could achieve it. Ofparticular interest are the first two chapters, and ofthese, the one leading up to and dealing with Vedic medicine is a masterpiece. It graphically reflects his universal outlook which accords equal importance to those cultures which did not become part ofthe mainstream ofWesternthought.Only after reading this book, the incompleteness ofwhich makes the loss ofHenry Sigerist all the more poignant, can we fully appreciate the dynamic quality which he has infused into the history ofmedicine, his broadening ofthe requisites ofhistoriography to include the collateral social sciences, and his gift ofintegrating the evolution ofthe healing arts with that ofall other phases ofhuman endeavor. Ilza Vetth University ofChicago Great Ideas in the History of Surgery...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 379-380
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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