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Geoscientist Online

Geology and Medicine: Historical Connections

vxcgjIn 2014 I reviewed SP375 ‘A History of Geology and Medicine’ which was the first ever volume dedicated to this subject. That volume was the result of a conference convened by The History of Geology Group, held at Burlington House in 2011. The first meeting had been exploratory in its approach and it became obvious that the themes were worthy of further investigation. This led to a second meeting (November 2014) which forms the basis of this second volume under the same editorial team as before. (Interestingly I have spoken to two people recently who thought that this was just a ‘second edition’ of 375, but this is definitely not the case!)

This volume explores the development and overlap of medical and geological sciences by an international group of authors that includes geologists, medical professionals and historians.  There are some 19 papers with contributions from Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Greece, South America and a number from the UK.

Some of the historic personalities recorded are well known to many such as Nicolas Steno and James Parkinson, but there are other lesser-known contributors to our geological knowledge that include some of Italian ancestry who are acknowledged here for their contributions to geology. Many other names not so well known to geologists, such as Hodges, Sperling, Siques and Lemone, are also recorded for their contributions to our knowledge.

Two papers under the general theme of ‘Geotherapeutics’ explore the historical use minerals and ‘earths’ in curative medicine in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The paper dedicated to ‘Serpent Stones’ gives a fascinating historical view of their medical applications delving deep into antiquity, and if you read only one paper from this publication, it should be this one.

This is a well-produced volume of varied topics that examines the relationships between geology and medicine.  It makes fascinating reading and once dipped into is compelling and even difficult to put down.  The volume is well illustrated with many monochrome maps, figures and drawings of historic origin, but the lively text is also enhanced with many illustrations in colour.

It will be of specific interest to Earth scientists and those with an interest in the medical profession, be that as a medical professional or just as an interested individual. This volume will also appeal to the general reader with an interest in science.  It will not disappoint and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Richard Porter

GEOLOGY AND MEDICINE: HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS by DUFFIN C J;  GARDNER-THORPE C; AND MOODY R T J, (Eds).Geological Society of London Special Publication 452,  July 2017. ISBN: 978-1-78620-283-3 (hbk) 304pp. List Price: £100. GSL Fellows: £50. Other Societies: £60. W: www.geolsoc.org.uk/SP452