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Article
March 4, 1974

Therapeutics: From the Primitives to the 20th Century

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

 

by Erwin H. Ackerknecht (with an appendix: History of Dietetics), 194 pp, Hafner Press (Macmillan), 1973.

JAMA. 1974;227(9):1065. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230220055026

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Abstract

Ackerknecht believes that "the new era in medicine, beginning in the 1930's, is an era of therapeutics." In the 19th century some truly effective remedies appeared, such as synthetic drugs and the beginning of serum therapy and hormone therapy. Following this, the rapid progress in the 20th century is well known, but in the earlier periods the therapeutics comprised a melancholy story. Ackerknecht concentrates on the absurdities, lack of logic, magical practices, superstition, polypharmacy and bloodletting, with occasional grudging admiration for a few physicians, discussed in some detail.

Unfortunately, Ackerknecht does not provide any sort of conceptual background or sense of development. The book is not really history, as many historians like to understand the term. Rather is the book a chronologically arranged compendium of facts and assertions (not always accurate) and criticisms (not always valid), all presented in a fashion quite condescending and supercilious towards earlier times. A few

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