From Anesthesia to X-Rays: Innovations and Discoveries That Changed Medicine Forever. By Christiane Nockels Fabbri. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2016. 246 p. Acid-free $58 (ISBN 978-1-6106-9573-2). E-book available (978-1-6106-9574-9), call for pricing.

For those who have an interest in the history and current practice of medicine, Christiane Fabbri’s From Anesthesia to X-Rays provides a helpful starting point in terms of choosing topics for more in-depth study. Prioritizing selectivity over comprehensiveness, this small encyclopedia includes fifty clinical procedures, tests, medications, and other innovations that changed therapeutic practice. Some, including birth control pills and polio vaccination, may already be familiar to the general public. Others, such as cataract surgery and pacemakers, are not as frequently mentioned in popular media, but are definitely worth knowing about. The author’s consultations with the medical community and with Nobel Prize lists ensured that only the most important, widely-applicable, and time-tested breakthroughs are highlighted.

Unfortunately, the audience for this work is not clear. While every entry begins with a what-where-when-who summary (a helpful feature often seen in high-school level reference books), quite a few entries include medical and scientific terms that are unlikely to be familiar to the average person. Also, the textbooks and journals cited in the bibliographies may not be easily accessible to most readers. Furthermore, the text would have benefitted greatly from line drawings to illustrate procedures that are difficult for non-clinicians to visualize. For example, the entry on “Angioplasty” describes Charles Dotter’s innovation as follows: “Dotter successfully dilated a narrowed area of the patient’s femoral artery, passing a guide wire and then coaxial rigid catheters through the stenosis, and reestablished distal blood flow” (2). There are no illustrations for this entry, and of the nine resources listed in the bibliography, four are textbooks by Lippincott, Saunders, or other technical publishers, while most of the others are medical journals. The advanced students who might be best able to wrap their heads around such jargon and sources are unlikely to use From Anesthesia to X-Rays, since current medical school training does not emphasize the history of medicine or the writing of term papers. Perhaps the best fit is the freshman or sophomore undergraduate who is seeking ideas for a writing assignment in an English composition or general-education science course.

If such limitations can be forgiven, From Anesthesia to X-Rays is a worthy purchase. While other medical encyclopedias exist—notably the Gale Encyclopedias of Medicine (2011), Public Health (2013), and Surgery and Medical Tests (2014)—these are not as explicit about selecting medical discoveries because of their clinical innovation and broad use.—Bernadette A. Lear, Behavioral Sciences and Education Librarian, Penn State Harrisburg Library, Middletown, Pennsylvania


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