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Chapter 1

Explorers of the Body
by Steven Lehrer

2nd Edition

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 educational."
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 fascinating book."
Richard Restak, M.D.
author of The Brain: The Last Frontier (Doubleday 1979)

"Factual accounts often stranger and more dramatic than fiction"
Gevevieve Stuttaford
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


"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 lore--and juicy."
Kirkus Reviews

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.

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 juicy.
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 advances.
    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.

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.
Gevevieve Stuttaford
Publishers Weekly, 3/12/79

As seen on the History Channel show, Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine