Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer Home           Home Home           Home Blog Archive    Blog Archive Blog Archive    Blog Archive About  site   About  site About  site   About  site About  me    About  me About  me    About  me Current reading   Current reading Current reading   Current reading CONTACT   CONTACT CONTACT   CONTACT Links                  Links Links                  Links Book shelves      Book shelves Book shelves      Book shelves

(6.5/10)

The Mesmerist: The Society Doctor Who Held

Victorian London Spellbound

by Wendy Moore

Medicine, in the early 1800s, was a brutal business. Operations were performed without anaesthesia while conventional treatment relied on leeches, cupping and toxic potions. The most surgeons could offer by way of pain relief was a large swig of brandy. Onto this scene came John Elliotson, the dazzling new hope of the medical world. Charismatic and ambitious, Elliotson was determined to transform medicine from a hodge-podge of archaic remedies into a practice informed by the latest science. In this aim he was backed by Thomas Wakley, founder of the new magazine, the Lancet, and a campaigner against corruption and malpractice. Then, in the summer of 1837, a French visitor - the self-styled Baron Jules Denis Dupotet - arrived in London to promote an exotic new idea: mesmerism. The mesmerism mania would take the nation by storm but would ultimately split the two friends, and the medical world, asunder - throwing into focus fundamental questions about the fine line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition.
Recent posts  Recent posts Recent posts  Recent posts
This was not an easy book to review (it was, however, an easy and very enjoyable book to read). For a start, it is for quite a niche audience I would say. I decided to buy and read it because Mesmerism is linked to the early days of “doing stuff [well claiming to] with magnetic fields”, and I have a professional interest in those, but I can imagine that for many people this book would be of limited, but very detailed, interest. And detailed it is: it describes in great detail the life of John Elliotson and his involvement in the introduction of Mesmerism into British society. It fascinating to get such a detailed insight into the medical world of London of the 1800s. However, I found the short period on which this book focusses, although described in great detail, gave the impression that these events happened in isolation of what happened elsewhere. How, for example, did the events in London mimic events in other cities in Europe and the US, and especially in Germany and France where Anton Mesmer conducted his work. In fact, I missed Anton Mesmer in this book: I would have preferred it if Elliotson’s work had been put in a wider perspective of events during that period so that one would get a better picture of the medical world of Europe in the 1800s and how Mesmerism impacted on it, rather than to focus on his friendship and later battles with Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet. I understand this was a deliberate choice, but personally I would have preferred another perspective; others may, of course, disagree. Don’t get me wrong though, I really enjoyed reading it, and found it fascinating. It took me less than two weeks to finish it, so that is testimony to how well it is written. But nonetheless, a bit of a marmite book, and I will suggest you read an excerpt prior to buying.       
Back Back Back Back