Taking the Medicine

Druin Burch

Taking the Medicine

This is a controversial history of medicine and medical drugs from a completely new angle - and a wake-up call to us all. Instead of merely placing cures in the culture of their day, Druin Burch dares to ask 'did they work?'. The answer is a resounding no. We follow the stories of major drugs like opiates, quinine and aspirin, and meet startling accounts of use and abuse, of accidental findings, and of heroic labours to understand their impact. Clearly these were powerful substances that had a major effect on the human body, but no one was quite sure how they worked, or if, in the long term, they really did effect a cure or merely relieved symptoms, masking the real problems. After the Second World War things started to change, beginning with antibiotics. But the great leap forward came with the development of reliable testing - unglamorous statistics and data that saved millions of lives.The real heroes are the men and women who have persuaded the world of the vital importance of blind, randomised, controlled trials as against the 'intuition' of doctors. Only by such testing can we avoid the horrors of misapplied drugs like thalidomide. And only by long-term tests, as well as those undertaken before a drug's release, can we discover that apparent miracle cures may bring more harm than benefits. We want to put our faith in doctors and the drugs they offer, but for centuries this faith has been misplaced. We need to ask more about how our new wonder drugs work and how they have been tested. We need to question our own doctors; to make the medical profession as a whole examine its prejudices; to press governments against handing control to powerful global companies. 3.2 out of 5 based on 3 reviews
Taking the Medicine

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Health & Medical
Format Hardback
Pages 336
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication January 2009
ISBN 978-0701182786
Publisher Chatto & Windus
 

This is a controversial history of medicine and medical drugs from a completely new angle - and a wake-up call to us all. Instead of merely placing cures in the culture of their day, Druin Burch dares to ask 'did they work?'. The answer is a resounding no. We follow the stories of major drugs like opiates, quinine and aspirin, and meet startling accounts of use and abuse, of accidental findings, and of heroic labours to understand their impact. Clearly these were powerful substances that had a major effect on the human body, but no one was quite sure how they worked, or if, in the long term, they really did effect a cure or merely relieved symptoms, masking the real problems. After the Second World War things started to change, beginning with antibiotics. But the great leap forward came with the development of reliable testing - unglamorous statistics and data that saved millions of lives.The real heroes are the men and women who have persuaded the world of the vital importance of blind, randomised, controlled trials as against the 'intuition' of doctors. Only by such testing can we avoid the horrors of misapplied drugs like thalidomide. And only by long-term tests, as well as those undertaken before a drug's release, can we discover that apparent miracle cures may bring more harm than benefits. We want to put our faith in doctors and the drugs they offer, but for centuries this faith has been misplaced. We need to ask more about how our new wonder drugs work and how they have been tested. We need to question our own doctors; to make the medical profession as a whole examine its prejudices; to press governments against handing control to powerful global companies.

Reviews

The Sunday Times

Bee Wilson

Burch argues that the God complex of doctors - their blithe conviction that their actions will surely produce benefits - is the most dangerous of the many hazards created by medicine over the ages... This thesis has already been put forward in David Wootton's ground-breaking history, Bad Medicine, published in 2006, a work to which Burch's owes a lot... Burch's book lacks Wootton's sheer originality and tight historical focus... Each chapter, however, is a self-contained pleasure to read, like mini-fables on the perils of medicine. And there are ways in which Burch, with his robust and imaginative prose style, takes the story further than Wootton...

04/01/2009

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The Financial Times

Andrew Jack

Burch covers extensive ground, although at times he culls quotes and drops in half-formed anecdotes like a college medical student cramming for an exam; at others, he gets too involved in individual circuitous stories at the expense of the broader message... His thesis is a little overdone... Burch overstates the collective harm that doctors have done.

28/02/2009

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The Guardian

Phil Whitaker

Burch is an evidence-based medicine enthusiast, and Taking the Medicine fails to consider the potential downsides. Evidence is expensive to obtain, so doctors' awareness is inevitably biased towards interventions promulgated by those with financial clout, principally the pharmaceutical companies. Then there is the process by which evidence is turned into myth. Consider statins...

14/02/2009

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