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History of neurology in The Netherlands
  1. I McDonald

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    Edited by J A M Frederiks, G W Bruyn and P Eling. Published by Boom Publishers, Amsterdam, 2002, pp 401, €42.00 . ISBN 90-5352-686-2

    Pride of place in the first century or so of Dutch neurology must go to the basic sciences of anatomy and physiology. These were my first points of contact with the Dutch neurological tradition, now almost 50 years ago. To the fledgling investigator working on propriospinal reflexes, Ariens Kappers et al’s The comparative anatomy of the nervous system of vertebrates including man (New York, Macmillan, 1936) was the place to turn for the structural background to physiological experiments. And in physiology, the work of Magnus, de Kleijn, and Rademaker were essential to understanding posture and rigidity. Studies on pathological peripheral and central nerve fibres were illuminated by the early pathological studies on Beri Beri by Winkler (1855–1941) and Pekelharing (1848–1922), and Hans van Crevel’s work in the laboratory of Verhaart (1889–1983) in Leiden.

    The book reviews the origins of this great tradition and charts its continuation into the late 20th century through Dusser de Barenne (who became professor of physiology at Yale) and Nauta (who also emigrated to the United States) and his student Hans Kuypers who was professor of anatomy successively in Rotterdam and Cambridge. Other aspects of neurology (the editors prefer the traditional use of the word to denote all aspects of the study of the nervous system, normal and pathological, including neurosurgery as well as clinical neurology) were later in achieving the well deserved international recognition they now have.

    The book provides a wealth of detail about the evolution of the different neurological centres in The Netherlands and the contributions coming from them. As in Germany, psychiatry and neurology remained closely linked until well into the 20th century. The development of the subspecialties is considered in some detail. A special feature of the Dutch scene was the way in which high quality original work came not infrequently from non-university settings.

    Of particular interest to the general neurological reader are the more detailed accounts of the life and work of a number of the major neurological figures in The Netherlands. Ariens Kappers emerges not only as the important contributor he was, but as a rather remote, self centred individual with his eye always to the main chance, and not especially appreciative of the work he got others to do for him. He, like most of the others in this section of the book, seems to have lived a rather austere live concentrated on his professional duties. There was tragedy for some, including Bernard Brouwer (1841–1949) who as Rector Magnificus did his best to limit the inroads of Nazism in the University; the authorities closed the university down. But after the liberation in 1945, Brouwer was judged not to have done enough in opposing the Nazis, and was refused an opportunity to return to the university. His colleagues, however, believed in his integrity and in 1947 he was appointed Director of Amsterdam’s Central Institute for Brain Research, where he continued to work until his death.

    The book is well produced and illustrated, with portraits and a number of scientific illustrations from both the early and the recent literature.