From Yale’s collections: Four landmark medical books

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.”

Dr. Sherwin Nuland

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.

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