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Book Reviews
January 1998

The History of Ophthalmology

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edited by Daniel M. Albert and Diane D. Edwards, 394 pp, Cambridge, Mass, Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

Arch Neurol. 1998;55(1):124-125. doi:

The History of Ophthalmology was commissioned as part of the Centennial celebrations of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Most of the chapters are written by Daniel M. Albert, a distinguished ophthalmologist, and Diane D. Edwards, a historian. The editors and a number of equally scholarly contributors have produced a splendid volume that provides an overview of the millennia of thought, hypotheses, trials, and errors that have resulted in ophthalmology as we know it today. A brief description of what is known about Assyrian and Babylonian ophthalmology precedes a more extensive description of eye diseases and their treatment in ancient Egypt; a brief mention is made of ancient Chinese ophthalmology. Hippocratic writings as they pertain to the anatomy and physiology of vision and diseases of the eye are discussed at some length. These chapters, together with the shorter accounts of ancient knowledge and practices that introduce many of the subsequent chapters, provide an opportunity to get reacquainted with or learn not only about ancient ophthalmology, but also about ancient medicine in general. The account of ophthalmology in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance outlines the development of current concepts of anatomy and physiology of the eye and vision. The evolution of ophthalmic pathology, which introduces the modern era of ophthalmology, is described in detail. The interesting accounts of ocular refraction, cataract, glaucoma, and corneal surgery can, in addition to their historic information, serve as an enjoyable refresher course in ophthalmology for the neurologist. The chapters on the discovery of the ophthalmoscope and on the development of the understanding of eye movements and other aspects of neuro-ophthalmology will be of special interest to clinical neuroscientists. The accounts on the development of optometry and the origins of the National Institute of Ophthalmology make interesting reading. The history of women in ophthalmology is particularly valuable. Following the mention of a handful of women in antiquity who engaged in the practice of surgery and/or ophthalmology, the chapter provides a vivid account of the difficulties women encountered in joining the medical profession toward the end of the 19th century, when a few medical schools began to accept women. The struggles of women in the course of their studies, which were exceeded only by the obstacles placed in their way in postgraduate work and specialization, are illustrated by the biographical sketches of a number of remarkable women who chose ophthalmology as their specialty and Madame Augusta Klumpke-Dejerine, whom neurologists like to claim as their own.

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