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A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities: A Compendium of the Odd, the Bizarre, and the Unexpected Paperback – April 17, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Dr. Bondeson dissects a dozen . . . examples of human credulity with the scalpel of a forensic historian, and the result is a colorful collection of true detective stories. -- Richard D. Altick

Fascinating. . . . Well-researched and extensively illustrated with items from [Bondeson's] personal collection, it covers a wide range of medical monstrosities, and there is something for everyone. -- The Lancet

About the Author

Jan Bondeson, a physician, holds a Ph.D. in experimental medicine and works at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318920
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

This book is the one to read if you want to know more about spontaneous combustion, snakes living as parasites in the human stomach, two-headed people, tailed men, giants and dwarfs, and Julia Pastrana the Nondescript. The chapter on premature burial is particularly ghoulish and gruesome, and seems to have inspired a very good TV documentary on this subject, recently sent on the Discovery Channel. The author is obviously a medical scientist, but he has the rare talent of writing in a way that appeals to the general reader. Stylish, well written and with lots of amazing illustrations, this book is well worth its price.
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A compilation of some very interesting people and unexplained syndromes / phenomenon. Spontaneous human combustion, premature burial, bosom serpents (live animals taking up residence in the human body), the lousy disease which strikingly resembles today's Morgellon's scare, tailed people, giants, dwarfs, the two-headed boy of Bengal (whom today would have easily been rendered single by a simple operation), and two women of note, one who duped the most respected physicians of the day by apparently breeding "rabbits," and the tragic, touching story of bearded lady Julia Pastrana who suffered from two separate genetic disorders. Julia was a lovely woman outside of her appearance, and the way in which her life, and that of her newborn son, and especially their deaths were mishandled is criminal. The author writes in a kind, evenhanded tone that shows a respect for his subject matter and the intelligence of his readers. This book contains plenty of first-hand accounts and historical data which adds great interest and welcome factual background. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in medicine and the strange ways nature and genes can combine. Note: The author mentions Gould and Pyle's ANOMALIES AND CURIOSITIES OF MEDICINE, published in 1897, as his inspiration for this book. This is available in its entirety on-line and is a riveting read.
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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and even more recently), medical and natural history museums combined elements of science and folklore with an infatuation for the bizarre and grotesque. Thus, they were often likened to the old-time "cabinet of curiosities", displays of disparate and unusual artifacts which bore no relationship to one another. A visitor to these museums often saw things which, in later years, became the staple of carnival side shows.
In "A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities", Jan Bondeson, a British physician who also holds a doctorate in experimental medicine, has written a fascinating and brilliantly executed textual analogue to the cabinet of curiousities. In successive chapters, Bondeson details, among other curiousities, the histories of spontaneous human combustion, apparent death and premature burial, maternal impressions (the belief that what a pregnant woman sees and experiences can cause corresponding alterations in the unborn fetus), and people with tails. Bondeson tells true, and not so true, stories of dwarfs and giants. He relates the story of Mary Toft, the English woman who, in 1726, was believed to have given birth to seventeen rabbits. And, of course, such a compendium of marvels would not be complete without a bearded lady--in this case, Bondeson narrates the remarkable life story of Julie Pastrana, who made appearances throughout the world in the mid-nineteenth century and whose mummified body (along with the mummified corpse of her infant child) continued to draw crowds at fairs and carnivals many years after her death.
While these topics may seem grotesque, even repulsive, Bondeson writes with deep feeling for his human subjects and a wry sense of humor for the foibles of his sometimes credulous profession. He also integrates these seemingly freakish and disparate topics into remarkably lucid and informative discussions of their place in the medical, scientific, religious, and literary discourse of their times.
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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and even more recently), medical and natural history museums combined elements of science and folklore with an infatuation for the bizarre and grotesque. Thus, they were often likened to the old-time "cabinet of curiosities", displays of disparate and unusual artifacts which bore no relationship to one another. A visitor to these museums often saw things which, in later years, became the staple of carnival side shows.
In "A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities", Jan Bondeson, a British physician who also holds a doctorate in experimental medicine, has written a fascinating and brilliantly executed textual analogue to the cabinet of curiousities. In successive chapters, Bondeson details, among other curiousities, the histories of spontaneous human combustion, apparent death and premature burial, maternal impressions (the belief that what a pregnant woman sees and experiences can cause corresponding alterations in the unborn fetus), and people with tails. Bondeson tells true, and not so true, stories of dwarfs and giants. He relates the story of Mary Toft, the English woman who, in 1726, was believed to have given birth to seventeen rabbits. And, of course, such a compendium of marvels would not be complete without a bearded lady--in this case, Bondeson narrates the remarkable life story of Julie Pastrana, who made appearances throughout the world in the mid-nineteenth century and whose mummified body (along with the mummified corpse of her infant child) continued to draw crowds at fairs and carnivals many years after her death.
While these topics may seem grotesque, even repulsive, Bondeson writes with deep feeling for his human subjects and a wry sense of humor for the foibles of his sometimes credulous profession.
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