From Yale’s collections: Four landmark medical books

Photos: Four landmark medical texts in Yale's collections

“De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (“On the Workings of the Human Body”) was published in 1543. Its author was Andreas Vesalius, a 28-year-old professor from the University of Padua.
Vesalius conducted systematic dissections of human cadavers and recorded his observations in his masterpiece, which is known simply as the “Fabrica.” This is an illustration of one of his studies of the human skeleton.
“The volume’s 663 folio pages, 11 large plates and almost 300 other illustrations were the product of the first systematic dissections of man ever to be published for the instruction of physicians,” says Nuland. A skeleton contemplating death
The illustrations for the “Fabrica” were drawn by Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian. A posterior view of a skeleton bending forward.
Vesalius traveled to Venice to get the most highly skilled woodblock cutters of the time. A sideview of human musculature.
Vesalius packed the blocks on mules and led them over the Alps to Basel, where Joannes Operinus had one of the finest printing establishments in Europe. Front view of human musculature.
The “Fabrica,” “signaled not only a great achievement in the history of anatomy, but in the craft of bookmaking and in the art of pedagogy as well,” notes Nuland. Vesalius’ table of instruments
"William Harvey’s ‘De Motu Cordis Sanguinis in Animalibus,’ ‘On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals,’ is a kind of Declaration of Independence of medical discovery,” says Nuland. Illustration shows segment of the human circulatory system
Harvey’s De Motu Cordis, an “unprepossessing little book” — 72 quarto-sized pages measuring 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches — illustrating the circulation of blood through the pumping action of the heart, was revolutionary when it was published in 1628. Title page
Giovanni Battista Morgagni was 79 years old in 1761 when he published “De Sedibus et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis” (“The Seats and Causes of Disease as Shown by Anatomy.”) In it, he demonstrated that illness was not caused by “fluxes of humors” but by pathological changes within the organs of the body. Frontispiece
“‘De Sedibus’ led to the development of the techniques of physical examination and directly to the invention of the stethoscope in 1816,” notes Nuland. Title page.
Text from Morgagni’s “De Sedibus.”
When Henry Gray’s “Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical”(“Gray’s Anatomy”) was published in 1858, a reviewer identified only as “H” (Nuland surmises it was Oliver Wendell Holmes) condemned Gray’s clearly labeled illustrations for distracting medical students from the text. A side view of the muscles of the face and neck.
“Gray’s Anatomy was destined to become a classic of pedagogical literature, truly one of the healing profession’s Great Books,” notes Nuland. The illustration is of permanent adult teeth.
“Now in its 39th American edition, this workhorse of medical pedagogy has remained in everyday use far longer than any medical instructional volume of modern times …,” Nuland says. The arteries of the neck.
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Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a surgeon, professor of medicine, historian and award-winning writer, is also an inveterate reader, who particularly credits four landmark books of medical science for altering our understanding of how the human body functions and, even more profoundly, how we think about our relationship with nature.

These books — all of them in Yale’s Medical Historical Library — are:

• Andreas Vesalius, author of “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (“On the Workings of the Human Body”), 1543;

• William Harvey, “De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus” (“On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals”), 1628;

• Giovanni Battista Morgagni, “De Sedibus et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis” (“The Seats and Causes of Disease as Shown by Anatomy”), 1761; and

• Henry Gray, “Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical” (a.k.a. “Gray’s Anatomy”), 1858.

Reflecting on the enrichment readers derive solely from books, Nuland cites the celebrated physician William Osler, who noted that for certain impassioned book lovers, reading is “the contemplation of the lives of the great and good of the past … the touch divine of noble natures gone.”

Like Osler, who held that the library is a “home” for books and a “workshop” for readers, Nuland says, “It is in the Medical Historical Library of the Cushing/Whitney at Yale that I have found my scholarly home. I like to think of it as my own personal place, even though it is shared by hundreds of men and women very much like me, who are often overcome by the need to look backward in the midst of trying to move forward.”

In tribute to the Medical Historical Library, Nuland selected illustrations from the four seminal medical books for this slideshow. [YaleNews thanks Melissa Grafe and Florence Gillich for facilitating the reproduction of the original work.]

An audio podcast with Nuland talking about each author’s singular contribution to medical knowledge can be found under the heading, “Great Books of Medicine” on iTunesU.

Nuland also presented a talk about the four authors at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia on Nov. 18, 2011. Click here to view the ceremony and talk.