A Sweeping History of Discoveries Related to the Human Body?
February 21, 2018 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend any books that narrates the history of humans' scientific understanding of the functioning of the human body?

I'm not sure if there exists one (or more) book(s) that encapsulate this huge area. One that narrates how humans went from having archaic beliefs about how the body works to specific people discovering the function of the heart and other organs, the existence and purpose of individual cells of the body, the causes of ailments, and so on?

I've found titles that explore the history of surgery or are studies of a particular organ (like the brain), but am still wondering if there is something more comprehensive than these.
posted by cathycartoon to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A Short History of Medicine, by F. Gonzalez-Crussi: tracks many different aspects of medical history from archaic sociological viewpoints to modern ones, usually with a fairly European framework. Not as sweeping as I think you'd like, but the most sweeping one I know.

I just read The Expressiveness of the Body by Shigehisa Kuriyama--this is a systems-level exploration of how both Greco-Roman medical thought involved to about 19th century medical thought and of how ancient Chinese medicine evolved to more modern TCM. It isn't as comprehensive as you're looking for and the changes in thought are less his focus than the distinct ways of seeing the body available between cultures & across centuries, but I think you might be interested?

(and I love books like this... do you have a goodreads?)
posted by peppercorn at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2018

Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies does this for not a particular organ, but a particular disease (cancer). I am not sure if the scope you are looking for is findable in one book, and I would recommend this one as one of a many-books approach to the topic.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:14 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Human Anatomy: A Visual History from the Renaissance to the Digital Age is a beautiful look at how we understood and painted/drew human anatomy at different times throughout history. It's picture heavy, and may not go into enough detail for you, but is a good summary of our understanding of at least gross anatomy at different points in time.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:33 AM on February 22, 2018

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