Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion Hardcover – January 1, 2003
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- Publisher : The History Press; 1st edition (January 1, 2003)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0750930985
- ISBN-13 : 978-0750930987
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,506,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book is well-written and follows the intrigue. That said, it’s definitely a niche work. I came at it from the strange direction of one who is interested in consciousness (and, by extension, how it is lost.) This book could appeal to those interested in the history of medicine, true crime, or recreational drugs, but, regardless, it’s a niche within those niche fields.
The book has graphics, annotations, a bibliography, and even an appendix that describes the chemistry of chloroform. It comes with all the bells-and-whistles one might expect of a scholarly book, but tells a story skillfully. The author is neither a journalist nor a scientist, but she seems to have done an extremely thorough job of research.
If you only read one book on the history of chloroform this year, make it this one. [Disclaimer: As far as I know, this is the only history of chloroform, and it’s certainly the only one that I’ve read to date.]
Ether worked wonderfully well, but it had disadvantages, especially its explosiveness. James Young Simpson, an obstetrician in Edinburgh, discovered the effects of chloroform. There were no experimental standards in place, and Simpson's procedure sounds simple and dangerous: he would get samples of any substance with a "breatheable vapour, inhale them from a tumbler, and make notes of his reactions." He enlisted friends as guinea pigs as well. Four days after being knocked out by chloroform in 1847, he used it successfully on an obstetric case. Though there is a legend that ministers denounced chloroform because taking pain away from childbirth was irreligious, Stratmann has not found documentation that this is so, although Simpson did get private letters along those lines.
Despite the frivolous objections, chloroform did have its bad effects on some patients as all medicines do. There was a long and emotional argument over whether it affected the heart or the respiration after doctors finally realized that some people were dying from it. Chloroform continued to be used until newer, safer agents began to be used in the 1950s. This surprising book shows that it was not just used for anesthesia, but also for general sedation, to combat seasickness, and even as fuel for steamer boats. In addition, it was used for criminal activities like murder and robbery, but it was not very successful for these (or for many of the other proposed uses), even though they did make good lurid stories for the Victorian press. The wide range of _Chloroform_ makes it an amusing history not only of an important aspect of medical science but of the society of the time.