[Review] What the Apothecary Ordered: Questionable Cures Through the Ages compiled by Caroline Rance


Title: What the Apothecary Ordered: Questionable Cures Through the Ages
Author: Caroline Rance
Publisher: Old House
Date of Publication: 17 February 2015
Number of Pages: 144

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by Goodreads (Old House & the author) in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: A quirky little book filled with the strange, absurd, curious and downright disgusting cures found throughout human history.

Review: I read this book on my Tube journey home, much to the shared amusement of my seatmate, who couldn’t seem to help sneaking looks at the many illustrations, advertisements and medieval art works. Had he not departed the train a few stops before I finished, I would have paid it forward and let him take it with him.

It is difficult to praise or find fault with this eclectically collated work. The work stands for itself and needs, essentially, to be taken at face value. Anyone interested in the history of medicine (chronologically, anthropologically, from a specific period [Roman, Greek, Georgian, Victorian, 20th century]) will find something to interest them. As “The Editor” notes, however, No remedy contained herein should be seen as the standard treatment used by the ‘Victorians’ or the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ or anybody else. At various periods of history, people facing illness and injury have been active participants in their search for recovery, often holding the power in the their relationships with practitioners and trying many treatments until time (or death) brought relief” (4-5).

My personal favourites include;

To make oyl of puppy, which is good for any strain or bruise [1656] (51) – where the unfortunate puppy meets a sad fate.

Flagging breasts [1579] (82) – a method for making your “Dugges or Pappes” perky and firm again.

A bottle of Hungary water [1857] (100) – the unfortunate tale of treatment gone wrong but rectified by the small hand of an eight or nine year old boy being inserted into the anus; and

For recovering persons apparently drowned [1776] (117) which provides instruction on how to resuscitate a drowning and is the originating point of the phrase, blowing smoke up your bottom. Read More.

Caroline is on Twitter
The Quack Doctor blog can be found here.


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