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Paracelsus: The Man Beneath the Myth

Abstract: Paracelsus––whose unorthodox beliefs and volatile temperament caused him to be ostracized from his contemporaries in the tightly knit academic and medical communities, where gossip and scandal circulated with relative ease in spite of the spacial limitations under which mail couriers then operated––was thought of as an agent of the Devil. Though history has been kinder to him, his association with the black arts remains irrevocable––for in a 1942 speech before the Royal Society of Medicine, H. P. Bayon described Paracelsus as “not a harbinger of light.” This paper seeks to uncover the man beneath the myth, and then, hopefully, to set at rest the idea that Paracelsus was anything but an ordinary (and godly) man with ideas and ideals ahead of his time, ideas and ideals that, unfortunately for his reputation, were unsettling to his contemporaries. On a separate note, this paper also attempts to demonstrate the folly of basing one’s opinion of someone or something off of a reputation that, more often than not, is fabricated from half-baked rumors and ill-conceived exaggerations. Read the rest of this entry

Review of “The Ghost Map”

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.  By Steven Johnson.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.  Print.  Pp. xviii+302.  $16.00.

This tightly-written triumph of historical nonfiction, written by Steven Johnson, author of seven other books including the national bestseller Everything Bad Is Good for You, follows two eminently prolific individuals––the taciturn yet brilliant Dr. John Snow, and the genial and equally perceptive Rev. Henry Whitehead––as their lives briefly intertwine when an unprecedentedly intense outbreak of cholera devastates a swathe of Victorian London.  Johnson describes how, in the span of a few weeks during the summer and fall of 1854, these two tenacious men join forces to propose a pioneering solution to what then was medicine’s most befuddling conundrum: a waterborne theory of cholera.  The implications of their explanation for cholera’s spread, though not immediately realized––Snow and Whitehead’s seminal achievement is recognized only shortly after the Great Stink of 1858, posthumously in Snow’s case––are unfavorable for the continued survival of the then-preponderant miasmatic theory of disease. Read the rest of this entry

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