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Book and Media Reviews
July 16, 2008

Herman Boerhaave: The Man and His Work

JAMA. 2008;300(3):338-339. doi:10.1001/jama.300.3.338

When the first edition of Lindeboom's biography of Herman Boerhaave appeared in 1968, it was acclaimed in JAMA as “unquestionably . . . the definitive biography for generations to come.” The enthusiastic reviewer was Lester King, an eminent physician and a leading authority on 18th-century medicine. The appearance of a major biography of Boerhaave (1668-1738) was certainly a noteworthy event. The great Dutch physician, holder of several chairs at Leyden University and a pioneer of clinical teaching, was the preeminent medical educator of the first half of the 18th century, as well as being distinguished for his original work in both botany and chemistry. Yet no reliable biographical treatment existed before Lindeboom's book appeared. The reason for this long-standing deficiency is not hard to discern. To master the available sources required not merely a detailed knowledge of 18th-century medicine and its allied sciences but fluency in Dutch, Latin, French, German, and English. Lindeboom possessed all those skills and more. Remarkably, he combined his historical researches with a medical career that saw him rise to be a successful internist and a leading figure in the Medical Faculty of Amsterdam's Free University.

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