Tag Archives: history

Worth, Jennifer. Call the midwife: A True Story Of the East End in the 1950s

worth worth

Jennifer Worth came from a sheltered background when she became a midwife in the Docklands in the 1950s. The conditions in which many women gave birth just half a century ago were horrifying, not only because of their grimly impoverished surroundings, but also because of what they were expected to endure. But while Jennifer witnessed brutality and tragedy, she also met with amazing kindness and understanding, tempered by a great deal of Cockney humour. She also earned the confidences of some whose lives were truly stranger, more poignant and more terrifying than could ever be recounted in fiction.

Attached to an order of nuns who had been working in the slums since the 1870s, Jennifer tells the story not only of the women she treated, but also of the community of nuns (including one who was accused of stealing jewels from Hatton Garden) and the camaraderie of the midwives with whom she trained. Funny, disturbing and incredibly moving, Jennifer’s stories bring to life the colourful world of the East End in the 1950s.

Publisher: W&N
Year: 2012
ISBN-10: 0753827875

Brandt, Allan. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America

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From agriculture to big business, from medicine to politics, The Cigarette Century is the definitive account of how smoking came to be so deeply implicated in our culture, science, policy, and law. No product has been so heavily promoted or has become so deeply entrenched in American consciousness. The Cigarette Century shows in striking detail how one ephemeral (and largely useless) product came to play such a dominant role in so many aspects of our lives—and deaths.

There is a good website about the book with more background and resources >here<

Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2009
ISBN-10: 0465070485

Wooton, D. Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates

Stephen Bradley HYMS: Not to be confused with Ben Goldacre’s book, this is by a York academic and gives a revisionist take on the history of medicine. Particularly interesting is the way he demonstrates how Doctors have often been quite reactionary and slow to adopt new techniques when it threatened their professional identity (e.g. surgeons reluctance to use anaesthetic for 50 years because tradition dictated that a good surgeon was someone who could work fast and endure the patient’s screams). Also shows how in statistical terms health services and doctors make a fairly marginal difference to public health.

For a link to the authors university website click here – there is also an excellent website dedicated to the book with reviews, debate and further links
Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1 edition
Year: 2007
ISBN-10: 0199212791

Viewer Comments:


Just finished this – its a good read and full of surprises (like ‘who’ discovered penicilin), along with some old friends (whole chapter on Dr John Snow). The section that made me think most was probably the chapter on vivisection, and the harm doctors have caused to animals in the past. Whilst on a personal level I have always seen experimentation on animals as justfiable, it is good to have those ideas challenged and tested.

I also liked the fact that the book is better received by doctors than by historians, some of whom apparently baulk at the idea of a history of ‘progress’.

Porter, R. The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity

Stephen Bradley HYMS: A classic and very accessible history of medicine. Chapters on modern medicine (since 19th century) are particularly worth reading especially the account of the precocious discovery of sepsis by Hungarian obstetrician Semmelweis and his tragic end (he was driven to insanity by his inability to convince his colleagues to wash their hands).

Publisher: Fontana Press
Year: 1999
ISBN-10: 0006374549

Viewer Comments:


This a fascinating book – its a bit of a brick, but is does cover all of recorded history! Roy Porter was an excellent historian and a prolific writer who died tragically young – I’m sure we’ll post more of his books in future, particularly those on the history of madness. This link should take you to his Amazon page with links to other books.

Richardson, R. Death, dissection and the destitute

In the early nineteenth century, body snatching was rife because the only corpses available for medical study were those of hanged murderers. With the Anatomy Act of 1832, however, the bodies of those who died destitute in workhouses were appropriated for dissection. At a time when such a procedure was regarded with fear and revulsion, the Anatomy Act effectively rendered dissection a punishment for poverty. Providing both historical and contemporary insights, Death, Dissection, and the Destitute opens rich new prospects in history and history of science. The new afterword draws important parallels between social and medical history and contemporary concerns regarding organs for transplant and human tissue for research.

Author: Richardson, Ruth
Title: Death, dissection and the destitute
Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press
Year: 2001
ISBN: 0226712400