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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 223-225

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Marina Frasca-Spada and Nick Jardine, eds. Books and the Sciences in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiv + 438 pp. Ill. $32.00 (paperbound, 0-521-65939-6).

Books and the Sciences in History grew out of discussions organized by the editors for the Cambridge Historiography Group at Cambridge University on the theme "History of the Sciences and History of the Book." The volume brings together twenty specially commissioned chapters (plus an introduction and two afterwords) by an eclectic group of authors. Although many of the chapters focus on case studies in narrow areas of research, all have wider implications for understanding the complex interplay over time between the authorship, production, distribution, and reception of books and the development of the disciplines with which they deal. The main emphasis is on the relationship of books to science, but there is also substantial treatment of the interactions between books and medicine.

The volume starts with the Carolingian revival of the ninth century, during which scientific and medical knowledge circulated in manuscript form, and continues through the 1850s, when the scale of book production increased dramatically and science became an institution bolstered by mass-produced treatises and textbooks. The mid-nineteenth century also saw the burgeoning of specialist journals, which supplanted publication by book as the main means of reporting new scientific and medical knowledge. Peer-reviewed journals—often associated with a professional society—established rules for scientific precedence, review, commentary, and other mechanisms for information assessment, and by the late nineteenth century they had become the principal fixed location of authority for science and medicine.

Of special interest to historians of medicine will be chapter 5 by Sachiko Kusukawa, "Illustrating Nature" (pp. 90-113), which outlines how published [End Page 223] images came to be an integral part of such works as Seven Books on the Fabric of the Human Body, by Andreas Vesalius (1543). There was no consensus in the early modern period as to the value of illustrations in a book, or what illustrations should represent. Vesalius, for example, worked closely with artist Jan van Calcar to include visual material. The collaboration involved devising an alphabetic code to link a body part in a woodcut to related discussion in the text. The author's intention was to show what a standard human body was like, choosing thereby to avoid discussing or illustrating variations, and the artist took examples from extant classical sculpture as models for canonical physique. Opuscula anatomica, a treatise by B. Eustachio (1564), is also profusely illustrated, but it depicts many variations of the human kidney instead of aiming at canonical representation. There was widespread disagreement about the advisability of publishing pictures of plants, even in manuals used for the collection of medicinal herbs: opponents felt that such illustrations were deceptive because no picture could record what the plant looked like in all of its phases. A historian of the period who wants to use published visual evidence to understand contemporary practice would be well advised to study the history of the book as well as the history of medicine.

As the editors note, and as individual chapters confirm (pp. 3, 13, 30, 38, et passim), the seminal thesis expounded by Elizabeth Eisenstein in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) is out of favor with the current generation of scholars in the history of books. Eisenstein argued that the paradigms of the scientific revolution, such as the Copernican system and Vesalian anatomy, were rendered possible by the fixed nature of printed books and the standardization and multiplication of texts, leading to a revolution in the dissemination of ideas. It is now clear that the success of early printers was in part predicated on their ability to exploit preexisting patterns of distribution, marketing, and ownership.

An afterword by Adrian Johns, "The Past, Present, and Future of the Scientific Book" (pp. 408-26), points to similarities between the way print technology was initially received and uncertainties relating to our own "communications revolution." The...