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Book review: ‘How to Remove a Brain and Other Bizarre Medical Practices’ by David Haviland

Just to make it absolutely clear that this book is not a new medical textbook published in a thoroughly modern manner that actually instructs medics on how to carry out frontal lobotomies. Nor should it be seen as an essential patient information guide to leave lying about the GP waiting room. Even in the present economic climate of reducing healthcare and staffing costs this book is not necessarily the self management information you would want to be seen promoting.

Instead it is a collection of tales about unusual medical practices, yarns, anecdotes and historical accounts. Where else would you be able to find out in the one book what Baron Dupuytren removed from corpses and if the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body? A GP Christmas stocking must.

As a reader you are eternally grateful that there are no accompanying illustrations as most of the DIY surgery guides are not conducive to reading whilst you eat. From the ‘Wisdom of the Ancients' through to diseases, diagnoses and cures, this rip roaring journey through the wonders of medical advancement misses little.

The content is without doubt one of the funniest recaps of the great, good and unbelievable of medicine. But there is a serious and perceptive side to some of the chapters too. In line with current hot topics there are tales of public health inequalities and medical ethics relevant to today.

These though are overshadowed by incredulous tales of regicide, Presidential assignation and links between the menstrual and lunar cycles.

The tales of medical wonderment and horror do raise the question that will current medical practices seem so humorous or shocking to future generations. Guess you will have to wait until the 2512 update to find out. Meanwhile, the current edition is highly recommended to all.


Fraser Ferguson is AHP Clinical Coordinator, NHS 24