- A History of Haematology: From Herodotus to HIV by Shaun R. McCann
This book might be more appropriately titled Selected Aspects of the History of Haematology. Shaun R. McCann, Professor Emeritus of Hematology and Academic Medicine, St. James Hospital and Trinity College, is the author. This work is one in a series of Oxford Medical Histories edited by Christopher Gardner-Thorpe. Although the subtitle of the book suggests a comprehensive treatment of the subject, this is not the case. The author issues a disclaimer early on by citing two historical volumes by Maxwell Wintrobe (now out of print), saying he has not repeated the ground covered in them but has instead directed his attention to events of the past twenty-five years.1 As might be expected, this leads to emphasis on those areas in which the McCann has extensive experience and expertise: primarily leukemia and bone marrow transplantation (he performed the first stem cell transplant in Ireland after training at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center). He also has special interest in transfusion medicine, having served as medical director of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. McCann discusses the tragic consequences of HIV on the blood supply, especially for hemophiliacs, and covers therapeutic advances. including the exciting story of imatinib treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia and monoclonal antibodies for B-cell malignancies. The development of hematology in different countries (chap. 10) and the role of technology in hematology (chap. 11) are described.
A William Osler quotation is presented twice (in the Forward and Introduction), but Osler's contributions to hematology (microscopy, platelets and thrombosis, polycythemia vera) are nowhere to be found. McCann barely mentions Vitamin B12 and folic acid, and neither is listed in the index. The same is true for lymphoma, myeloma, and myeloproliferative disorders. One wonders why this is so in a treatise that includes a section on the vampire myth. The illustrations are, in general, unhelpful—there are a number of cartoons that contribute little. I found only two photographs of blood smears (spherocytes and sickle cells), neither in color. McCann says inspection of blood smears is a "dying art" (Forward, p. ix). He is not alone in this view. The index is unorganized—listings beginning with "L" are included under "K." [End Page 438]
In summary, McCann's book contains some interesting information about the development of hematology, but it cannot be recommended as a history of the field. It might be more valuable as a memoir of McCann's distinguished career.
1. Maxwell M. Wintrobe, Blood, Pure and Eloquent (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980); Wintrobe, Hematology, The Blossoming of a Science (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1985).