Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion
Right up until the 19th century, physicians and philosophers regarded sleep as a state of near-oblivion in which there was no mental activity, a kind of halfway stage between wakefulness and death. For the Victorians, therefore, when anaesthesia was first practised, it was commonly seen as traumatic--for doctors were being asked to induce a condition looked upon as partial death. Viewed with suspicion, many feared that they would never wake again, or that they would lose their faculties on a permanent basis, even become insane. Yet, especially after Queen Victoria allowed its administration to her during childbirth, its use to block out pain became widespread. This engaging and entertaining book traces the social, medical and criminal history of chloroform, from early medical practices to create oblivion through the discovery of chloroform and its discovery, its use and misuse in the 19th century, to the present. Today chloroform is no longer used as an anaesthetic, but has a multitude of uses in industry and medical research, including a role in DNA profiling. A by-product of the chlorination of water, we inhale infinitesimal amounts of chloroform every time we have a shower.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
My feelings on this book are mixed. It's not a bad book. It's not even dreadfully dull. But it also felt scattered in its approach and almost dizzying with the number of names it introduces, and didn't live up to my expectations. Chloroform is a fascinating subject matter. It's a powerful anesthetic. It's a tool of rapists and murderers. I was intrigued by the early debates against chloroform, especially regarding its use in labor--that a woman should experience pain, because it's God's edict against Eve. This was countered by one of my early champions of chloroform who pointed out that God sedated Adam while his rib was removed, so God understood the subject. However, too much of the book ended up covering the squabbles of Scotland versus London among their medical schools, and about ether versus chloroform. The book gains more focus near the end as it details scandalous Victorian cases where anesthesia was abused, including the infamous Holmes of Chicago, a mass murderer during the Chicago World's Fair (though I don't think that fact was even mentioned in this book; I know about Holmes from Devil in the White City). I had hoped this book would provide useful medical material for research purposes, but it didn't. My existing book on Civil War medicine is just as useful, and has far more pictures.
Review: Chloroform: The Quest for OblivionUser Review - Goodreads
Great read. Excellent science history. Fascinating tales, although some a little oblique to the topic at hand. Would recommend for anyone interested in chemistry, history, and even a bit of detective-like intrigue!
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