14 April 2014


Author: Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Year: 2013
Pages: 320
Time It Took To Read: Months to finish

I am a student of health and social care, but I'm not really studying health and social care at all. I'm studying the philosophy, evolution, science and practice of medicine. The social aspect comes into it, but as I believe the health and social care systems need to be fully integrated, it's all part of the whole and shouldn't be separate. I think one of the most dangerous parts of modern medicine is cartesian dualism - that the body and person are separate entities. Healthcare needs to be holistic. I don't mean alternative medicine, I mean actual NHS healthcare needs to take into account the person across the board. It's something I feel intensely strongly about, most particularly in psychiatry and obstetrics.

Anyway, I got this book because I've read the author's book on chemistry, Periodic Tales, and it was one of the first really interesting things I've read about elements. And I have a long fascination with physiology and anatomy. It took me ages to read, because I literally wanted to discuss every single thing I read in it with someone, so didn't get very far very fast.

Everyone has, at some point, been treated as a body. You've got a throat infection? Observe the swollen throat and treat. If you're lucky, you have a GP who understands that you can't take time off work, or rest, or afford your prescription, but otherwise your throat is the issue, divorced from your personhood. This book takes the opposite view, relating anatomy and systems to a culture and philosophy. Why is there no standard of beauty? Why is someone's gender so important and unimportant at the same time? Why do we develop symmetrically: how does the left arm know it is left? Why are left handed people historically treated as freaks? If we could live forever, would we want to? The author manages to discuss complicated scientific ideas without it becoming arduous, and uses endless sociological, cultural, and philosophical ideas and models to remind the reader that their body is simultaneously their whole reality and their empty shell. 

If you're interested in health, medicine, anatomy, society, sociology, demography, philosophy, culture or just generally in people, this is a fantastic book. I loved it. 

Book count: 12/50

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