A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities

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W.W. Norton, 1999 - Medical - 250 pages
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In ten essays, Jan Bondeson brings a physician's diagnostic skills to various unexpected, gruesome, and extraordinary aspects of the history of medicine: spontaneous human combustion, colonies of snakes and frogs living in a person's stomach, kings and emperors devoured by lice, vicious tribes of tailed men, and the Two-Headed Boy of Bengal. Bondeson tells the story of Mary Toft, who gained notoriety in 1726 when she allegedly gave birth to seventeen rabbits. King George I, the Prince of Wales, and the court physicians attributed these monstrous births to a "maternal impression, " because Mary had longed for a meal of rabbit while pregnant. Bondeson explains that the fallacy of maternal impressions, conspicuous in the novels of Goethe, Sir Walter Scott, and Charles Dickens, has ancient roots in Chinese and Babylonian manuscripts. Bondeson also presents the tragic case of Julia Pastrana, a Mexican Indian woman with thick hair over much of her body and a massive overgrowth of the gums that gave her an apelike appearance. Called the Ape Woman, she was exhibited all over the world. After her death in 1860, Julia's husband, who had also been her impresario, had her body mummified and continued to exhibit her throughout Europe. Bondeson tracked the mummy down and managed to diagnose Julia Pastrana's condition as a rare genetic syndrome.

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User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Eight history-laden essays on bizarre beliefs, fears, and behaviors, plus two additional pieces on several unfortunate human anomalies—all serving as reminders of human gullibility, mendacity, and ... Read full review

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User Review  - ConnieJo - LibraryThing

It was an interesting book, and much different than I thought it would be. Most of the chapters focus on a single issue (spontaneous human combustion, maternal impressions, the lousing disease) and ... Read full review

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About the author (1999)

Jan Bondeson, M.D., also holds a Ph.D. in experimental medicine. He is the author of "A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities" & other works.

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