Book Review: MEDIEVAL MEDICINE by Toni Mount

Title in red on cream below green plant
Genre: Non-fiction history
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for MEDIEVAL MEDICINE: title in red on cream above images of plants

Conjuring up a time when butchers and executioners knew more about anatomy than university-trained physicians, the phrase ‘medieval medicine’ sounds horrific to those of us with modern ideas on hygiene, instant pain relief and effective treatments. In those days no one could allay the dread of plague or the many other horrible diseases we have now forgotten.

However, the medieval medical profession provided patients with everything from cosmetic procedures and dietary advice to life-saving surgeries and post-operative antibiotics. Intriguingly, alongside such expertise, some still believed that unicorns, dragons and elephants supplied vital medical ingredients and that horoscopes could predict the sex of unborn babies. This book explores the labyrinth of strange ideas and unlikely remedies that make up the weird, wonderful and occasionally beneficial world of medieval medicine.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

This is one of those books that was fine – it wasn’t a slog but also didn’t make much impression on me. As a research book, it’s also a rare one that I didn’t take lots of notes about (though that might be research fatigue? because there was lots of good stuff in there that I will probably refer back to using the index at a later date.)

It’s a pretty comprehensive thematic look at medicine in the Middle Ages (yes, I am going to use Medieval and Middle Ages pretty much interchangeably here). Rather than focusing heavily on the medicines themselves, this book looks more at the ideas behind it – how did they learn and pass knowledge on? What was the basis for a diagnosis and prognosis? Who was involved and how were they regulated? What about women and medicine?

I liked this more thematic approach, as it feels a lot more holistic and useful than just lots of tinctures that don’t actually give a sense of the profession and society. Also my eyes tend to glaze after lists of herbs with names I’m not used to (too much time spent in a chemistry lab looking at synthesis instructions!) Instead, this style lets you get to grips with the principles behind the treatment of disease, with lots of examples of people named in records. The names do help attach it to real figures, and make it feel more tangible.

MEDIEVAL MEDICINE goes beyond just the Middle Ages at the end, which was a really nice thematic end. The final few chapters look into Tudor and Stuart Medicine, and then what progress had been made during the Medieval Period and what it laid the groundworks for. My GCSE History was primarily focused on the history and evolution of medicine, so it was nice to see familiar themes bookending the book (but in more detail.)

I think part of what made this book less engaging for me was that I have read so much non-fiction in recent weeks and I’m starting to get a little non-fictioned-out. I am rather looking forwards to just reading fiction next month!

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