December 24, 1997

Charcot: Constructing Neurology

Author Affiliations

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Nashville, Tenn


by Christopher G. Goetz, Michel Bonduelle, and Toby Gelfand, 392 pp, with illus, $55, ISBN 0-19-507643-5, New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 1995.

JAMA. 1997;278(24):2195-2196. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550240087050

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The French physician Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was the founder of the clinical specialty of neurology. He was a self-made man, rising from the Parisian lower middle class to the highest levels of academic and professional achievement.

His early career was steady but not spectacular. His great opportunity came with an assignment to the Salpêtrière: he was in charge of one medical section of this huge institution, which in today's health care system would be somewhere between an unskilled nursing home and a facility for those with chronic mental illnesses unable to care for themselves. At this time, only women were admitted to the Salpêtrière; it was filled with old prostitutes afflicted with the degenerative conditions now known to be caused by syphilis, patients with frequent epileptic seizures, and destitute women found on the streets of Paris.

"Novelists and artists as well as physicians crowded the lecture hall..."

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