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Book and Media Reviews
April 20, 2011

Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe

JAMA. 2011;305(15):1600-1601. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.488

For readers unable to keep up with the increasing monographic literature related to medical history, this text not only summarizes recent findings but also offers an excellent example of the way historians over the last quarter-century have been reconceptualizing the place of health and medicine in human affairs. The second edition of Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, which covers the period 1500 to 1800, epitomizes the so-called social history of medicine. This approach takes an expansive view of health and healing and assumes that they are deeply embedded in—and hence both affect and are affected by—larger social dynamics, including religious beliefs, economic developments, class structures, gender relations, political realities, and military imperatives. This volume offers strong evidence that early modern Europeans cared a great deal about health and healing. They wanted to combat illness and injury, and they tried every method available to them. Hence, instead of assuming they were irrational and benighted, Lindemann assumes they were just as smart and just as motivated as present-day Europeans, and she seeks to understand why they did what they did and why those actions were functional for them.