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Some books deserve their title and others, like this one, definitely do not. For this is not a comprehensive survey of the British contribution to neurology through 250 years. Thank goodness; because such an account could so easily be familiar and self important. Instead, Clifford Rose has assembled a delightful and quixotic collection of essays from an international panel of authors; only six of the 20 contributors are British. He has eschewed the predictable; the chapter on Gowers, for instance, is devoted solely to his promotion of the use of shorthand in medicine. Of the three chapters on Hughlings-Jackson, one is an extrapolation of his ideas on neurophysiology to the archaeological record of human mental evolution. Humour abounds from even the most unpromising subjects. “There is something especially delicious about controversy and acrimony,” writes Robert Gordon on the Bell Magendie debate in his impish chapter on collecting antiquarian neurological books. The diplomatic skills of John Fothergill, who described trigeminal neuralgia in the 18th century, are carefully recorded. A patient, the Earl of Macclesfield, asked him over the dinner table whether the food they were eating was wholesome: “Does your Lordship like it?” Fothergill asked. Yes, the Earl replied. “Does it agree with your Lordship?” Yes. “Why then it is wholesome”. Compston uses the anatomical illustrations of 18th and 19th century neurological texts to illustrate the emerging clinicopathological technique. CU Smith makes an excellent case for stressing the importance of the young JZ Young's visit to Naples in 1928, where he rediscovered the squid giant axon that was to become such a fruitful experimental model in the hands of Hodgkin and Huxley and Curtis and Cole. In 1940 Young was to write “unfortunately work was terminated by the outbreak of war which rendered the capture of squids impossible”.
Purists may be upset that familiar neurological icons are not given the usual plaudits; in particular, in 274 pages, there are only four passing references to the National Hospital, Queen Square. But the familiar can be boring and this compulsive little book most certainly is not.
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