Historian Thomas Morris has assembled a collection of tales from the annals of medicine about mysterious illnesses, horrifying operations, dubious treatments, and other puzzling cases and practices from bygone eras.
Using a panoply of colorful examples, the author artfully illustrates the frustrations, uncertainty, poorly founded confidence and frequent futility of medical practice in the prescientific age. Employing a consistently light and humorous touch, he effortlessly navigates a cornucopia of fascinating, esoteric and obscure patient histories. The carefully selected vignettes demonstrate the befuddled mindset of the well-intentioned physicians who were forced to contend with the vagaries of damaged and failing human flesh without the benefit of anesthesia, and armed with little more than the fanciful theories of Galen ... This continuity of human folly across the centuries is simultaneously surprising and reassuring. The author emerges as equal measures social historian and voyeur. Little attempt is made to connect the various incidents into a substantial overview, in the manner of the greats of the genre such as the British medical historian Roy Porter. Indeed, the material, although both fascinating and entertaining, is left displayed naked on the dissection table in a somewhat disjointed and frivolous manner that is ultimately disappointing. It nevertheless provides a curious window into a vitalistic era of medical practice that, fortunately for us all, has been eclipsed by the significant advances of contemporary molecular medicine.
The very first thing you’ll need to know when you find The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth is that it’s not a mystery in the sense that you’re used to. No, author Thomas Morris tells, up-front, about every crushed limb, every dynamite burp and pigeon butt in wince-worthy, laughable detail. But even though these things are humorous from today’s vantage point, Morris pokes fun in a respectful manner that isn’t mean-spirited. It’s more on the playful side, pulling old medical reports from the dust, explaining where needed, and cringing along with readers. Even better, these accounts go beyond the usual leeches-and-mercury tales; instead, most of what Morris presents hasn’t had a good exam in decades. Despite their age—and many are 200-plus years old—these articles seem fresh ... if boredom is what ails you, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth is an excellent remedy.
It’s a gruesome but weirdly compelling trip through several centuries of quack cures, horrific operations, and bizarre accidents ... The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth is full of stories like ... a few cases of acute toothaches followed, mysteriously, by the tooth breaking apart with great force. No explanation has been found. Weird illnesses and accidents can be, oddly compelling, but it’s the ludicrous remedies that linger.