Explorers of the Body
by Steven Lehrer
Dramatic breakthroughs in medicine from ancient times to modern science
Praise for EXPLORERS OF THE BODY
"Explorers of the Body is an exceptionally good book, both amusing and
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Nobel Laureate in Literature
"A fine job in all respects"
William Wallace Scott, PhD, MD, DSc
David Hall McConnell Professor of Urology Emeritus,
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
"I enjoyed the book very much and I think that its strong points are the
hundreds of little known facts about medicine and early medical pioneers. As a
physician, I thought that I had at one time or another come into contact with
most of the important points of medical history, but it is obvious from Dr.
Lehrer's book that I had just scratched the surface. I think that it is a
Richard Restak, M.D.
author of The Brain: The Last Frontier (Doubleday 1979)
"Factual accounts often stranger and more dramatic than fiction"
Publishers Weekly, 3/12/79
"A fascinating book"
A. McGehee Harvey, M.D.
E. Kennerly Marshall, Jr. Professor of Medicine,
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
"It is healthy to have this
readable antidote to the medical profession's sanitized portraits of
itself...much fascinating information."
New York Times Book Review
news from DOUBLEDAY
For release May 11, 1979
A HISTORY OF THE GRAND ADVENTURE OF MEDICAL SCIENCE
"It's all here from the Ebers Papyrus over two millennia B.C. to an epilogue
with posers about drug-resistant bacteria, runaway viruses, transplanted brains
and longevity drugs. History with warts, as they say. Lots of good medical
EXPLORERS OF THE BODY by STEVEN LEHRER
How does the body work? is a question which has intrigued and occupied mankind
since soothsayers first peered into animal entrails. From the primitive
"medicine" of ancient Egypt to the mind-boggling achievements of modern
laboratories, the healing craft has been a fascinating part of man's progress.
EXPLORERS OF THE BODY, by Steven Lehrer, is a history of medicine told through
lively stories of the men and women who made the great breakthroughs in our
understanding of human physiology ...Jenner, Mendel, Curie, Salk, Harvey,
Pasteur, Lister, and many others.
From Hippocrates, who is credited with turning the science of healing from the
supernatural to the rational, to the pioneers of genetic engineering, EXPLORERS
OF THE BODY is studded with the innovations, inspired guesses, shocking
scandals, the jealousies, high drama, corruption and occasional dumb luck of the
shapers of medical history.
Anecdotal, accessible, as entertaining as it is informative, EXPLORERS OF THE
BODY is popularly-written science in the lively tradition of Sagan’s THE DRAGONS
OF EDEN and Bronowski's THE ASCENT OF MAN.
Steven Lehrer, MD is Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology, Mount Sinai
School of Medicine, New York.
A graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr.Lehrer is the author of five
other books and is himself engaged in medical research.
EXPLORERS OF THE BODY tells the story of
Diamond Jim Brady and his contribution to the rise of surgery
How a Georgia dentist stumbled upon the science of anesthesia
The great tuberculin scandal and how greed led to medical disaster
The Panama Canal and its role in medical history
The circulatory system and Oliver Cromwell
Medicine's fight against the deadly mosquito
How Sinclair Lewis chronicled the course of American medicine
How one of the greatest medical detectives in history was driven mad by the
abuse of his contemporaries
Shocking stories of human experimentation
The bitter rivalry between two of the greatest research scientists of all
time, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch
The rise of epidemiology from cholera to Legionnaires' disease
How an Austrian monk falsified data and became the father of genetics
These are just a sample of the dramatic events and discoveries that have shaped
modern medicine and are chronicled in EXPLORERS OF THE BODY.
Lehrer, Steve EXPLORERS OF THE BODY
Doubleday $12.95 5/11 ISBN: 385-13497-5
It's all here from the Ebers Papyrus over two millennia B.C. to an epilogue with
posers about drug-resistant bacteria, runaway viruses, transplanted brains, and
longevity drugs. This is medical history with warts, as they say. Lehrer is a
well-informed fellow who likes to gossip. So read this text if you want to hear
about Koch's mistress as well as tuberculosis, Ehrlich's financial naiveté as
well as Salvarsan, Cushing's extraordinary contempt for co-workers, Halsted's
addiction to morphine, roué Emile (diphtheria toxin) Roux who said "Women are
like drugs. When they no longer act, one must change" . . . and the madmen like
poor Semmelweis who tried to get doctors to wash their hands, quacks like
Mesmer, and the countless antagonisms, jealousies, legendary tales and what-not
of penicillin, streptomycin, malaria, filaria, Listerine. Even an exegesis on
Arrowsmith which was a collaboration between Lewis and Paul (Microbe Hunters) de
Kruif--who got fired from Rockefeller Institute for lampooning his colleagues in
print. One surmises that the stories may not always be pure and unadulterated
(there's barely a mention, for instance, of Crick's contribution to the DNA
model and hardly a civil word for Watson). But no one could deny that the
characters are often melodramatic personnae. Lots of good medical lore--and
Kirkus Reviews 4/1/79
Nature Vol. 281 27 September 1979 p323
Survey of medical history
Explorers of the Body. By Steven Lehrer. Pp. 463. (Doubleday: New York, 1979.)
$12.95. review by Sidney Selwyn
Popular accounts of medical history are surprisingly scarce.
Before the appearance of Dr Lehrer's book, the only notable example of this rare
genre was Microbe Hunters, which was first published over 50 years ago. The
author, Paul de Kruif, was a lapsed bacteriologist whose highly coloured
descriptions of heroic battles against infection fired the imagination of a wide
audience. Indeed, many impressionable adolescents were inspired by his book
to enter medicine and related professions.
Sadly, de Kruif's sequels on nutrition, psychiatry and other
medical themes were progressively--perhaps predictably--less successful; and
although he can be regarded as the main originator of the racy, home-spun style
of medical journalism, which remains so popular in North America, it is puzzling
that so few writers have attempted to emulate him with full length work in one
of the most fascinating branches of human history. Since the 1920s an
intermittent series of unexciting biographies has only occasionally been
relieved by something as imaginative as Rats, Lice and History, written by
another bacteriologist, Hans Zinsser. So barren and featureless has been the
landscape, that this whimsical little book of 1935 still remains outstanding.
The publication of a reasonably comprehensive survey of medical history for the
general reader is therefore to be cordially welcomed. Written attractively and
with authority by a practising physician, this new book builds up a mosaic of
the lives and work of innumerable contributors to the development of medical
science. Four central chapters out of ten are devoted to infection and its
control, the remainder being idiosyncratically arranged, starting with
physiology, moving to genetics and then anaesthesia. Surgery is embedded among
the infections, and the book ends with X-rays and diabetes mellitus.
The opening chapter on the evolution of knowledge about the
functioning of the body forms a very satisfying prelude to this vast epic. From
the stumbling observations made in Ancient Greece and Rome on the action of the
heart and on respiration, progress is clearly traced through the late
Renaissance to the work of William Harvey and a succession of other pioneers.
Many of them were not primarily interested in medicine, for example, Boyle,
Hooke, Priestley and Black in Britain, and Lavoisier and Laplace in
pre-revolutionary France. As an incidental feature, the often uncomfortable (and
occasionally fatal) effects of politics on the lives of medical explorers are
curiously evident in this introductory section.
Similarly, in the two subsequent chapters fresh insight is
provided into such well rehearsed stories as the work of Mendel, the elucidation
of the structure of DNA, the acrimonious and complex background to the
introduction of anaesthetic gases, and the rise and fall of mesmerism. Although
inevitably told with less verve than in de Kruif's pages, Dr Lehrer's accounts
of microbe hunting and taming make compelling reading. Particularly vivid are
his descriptions of vaccines, antimicrobial drugs and, indeed most other medical
A special feature of the book is its very revealing
portraiture of major and minor participants alike, While most are necessarily
depicted with the economy of a miniaturist, so extensive yet compact a gallery
is unprecedented. Even the cognoscenti will probably realise for the first time
just how disagreeable the average medical pioneer is. For every saintly figure
such as William Withering or Paul Ehrlich, the author delineates dozens of
irascible, bombastic, unscrupulous, or at the least, devious individuals such as
Paracelsus, Hooke, Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Semmelweis, Mendel, Pasteur, Koch,
Cushing, Behring, Ross, and a handful of more recent Nobel laureates.
Sometimes, however, debunking seems to be indulged in for its
own sake. For example, Harvey is said to have "lacked the ability of a skilled
experimenter "because he considerably underestimated the body's total blood
volume (which even now is difficult to measure). Edward Jenner is also
criticised on the rather tenuous grounds that he did not publish details about
the death of one of his patients, who seems to have succumbed to an unrelated
"infection". A further criticism is that Jenner regarded cowpox and a comparable
infection of horses as being closely related both to one another and to human
smallpox--which indeed is in accord with modern virological views. But after the
uncritical recent apotheosis of Harvey during the celebrations of his 400th
anniversary, and the sustained adulation of Jenner during the past 150 years,
fair reevaluation of their work is very welcome. The text contains relatively
few typographical or factual errors, and solecisms such as the statement that
the French Academy of Sciences was, in the eighteenth century, "the final
authority in European medicine" are mercifully rare.
The reader may well be disappointed to find virtually no
mention of pathology, pharmacology and several medical specialties, including
psychiatry--the "Explorers of the Body" being zealously prevented from entering
the domain of the mind. An account of some of these important subjects could
well have replaced the largely non-medical section on genetics. Nevertheless,
the author has accomplished a tour de force, and his publishers also deserve
praise for producing this admirable book at so reasonable a price.
Sydney Selwyn is Reader in Medical Microbiology at the Westminster Medical
School, University of London, UK
Lehrer, Steven. Explorers of the Body. Doubleday.
This is an engrossing account of the medical milestones upon which 20th Century
medicine is based. Included in the text are many fascinating anecdotes which
complement the historical facts. Some familiarity with medical, biological, and
anatomical terms is assumed. Although the book is by no means a complete
treatise on medical history, Lehrer has achieved his apparent purpose of
describing the most important and far-reaching discoveries. The bibliography is
excellent and could serve as a starting point for a more exhaustive study of the
subject.-Elliott Strom, M.D., Charlotte Memorial Hospital, N.C. Library Journal
May 15, 1979 p 1151.
EXPLORERS OF THE BODY
Steve Lehrer. Doubleday, $12.95 ISBN 0-385-13497-5
From Hippocrates to the controversial recombinant DNA research, the progress of
medicine is studded with brilliant innovations, inspired guesses and fortuitous
discoveries. Endless research and public opposition were also the lot of many
scientists, as this popularized history attests in following the development of
medicine from its earliest beginnings to its most recent advances. Individual
chapters are devoted to blood circulation, genetics, anesthesia, surgery,
microbiology, etc.--each section touching on the lives and contributions of
pertinent scientists. Among the many lively anecdotes is the story of the
unusual collaboration between bacteriologist-writer Paul de Kruif and Sinclair
Lewis, which produced the latter's prize-winning novel "Arrowsmith." However
brief the factual accounts presented here, they are indeed often stranger and
more dramatic than fiction. Photos, index.
Publishers Weekly, 3/12/79
seen on the History Channel
show, Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine