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J R Soc Med. 2002 January; 95(1): 50–51.
PMCID: PMC1279155

The Oxford Illustrated Companion to Medicine

Reviewed by Richard Bayliss

Editors: Stephen Lock, John M Last, George Dunea
881 pp Price £39.50 ISBN 0-19-262950-6
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 .

First published in 1986 with a second edition in 1994, this third edition has been completely rewritten under the editorship of Stephen Lock in England, John Last in Canada and George Dunea in the United States. With the help of some 250 contributors, all acknowledged experts, they have done a truly magnificent task to encompass so much in 881 double-column pages.

To give some idea of the scope of the book here is a list of the topics included under the letter A: Abortion, Absinthe, Abuse of old people, Academic medicine, Académie de Médecine, Academies, Acupuncture, Addiction, Adverse drug reactions, Advertising, Africa (history, present and future), Age and aging, Alchemy, AIDS, Alcohol, Allergy, Allied medical professions, Alternative medicine, Altitude sickness, Anatomy, Alzheimer's disease, Anaemia, Anaesthesia, Animals as carriers of disease, Anorexia nervosa, Antibiotics and anti-infective drugs, Anti-vivisection/animal rights movements, Apothecaries, Appliances (crutches and Zimmer frames etc), Arab medicine, Architecture, Aristotle, Art, Arthritis, Arthroscopy, Associations, Asthma, Asylums, Astrology, Atheroma, Audit, Medical systems in Australia, Doctors as authors, Autopsy and Ayurvedic medicine. Where appropriate the history is given, perhaps in some instances in too great detail, and each topic is dealt with in a length proportionate to its importance in words comprehensible to the educated non-medical reader. For example, under Abortion there are paragraphs on therapeutic abortion, abortion in Britain, methods of inducing abortion including mifepristone and prostaglandins, abortion world-wide, illegal abortion and a graph showing the legal abortion rates in different countries.

To help you find your way around there are four indexes—a general index, a people index, a list of individual conditions and diseases, and a topic index. This is a book for you to browse through, to give to a colleague who has rendered you or a member of your family some medical service, to an offspring or grandchild now studying medicine and perhaps to a non-medical spouse in the hope that it might deflect those difficult-to-answer questions.

There are some apparent omissions because of poor indexing. Anthrax, for example, is not included among the As nor does it appear in the index. It is, however, to be found under Biological weapons. Nor could I find a clear account of the various types of fever. Some of the illustrations are of indifferent quality. For example, the picture of ‘goitre in a cretin’ on p. 264, taken from Sir Humphrey Rolleston's book The Endocrine Organs in Health and Disease published in 1911, certainly shows a goitre, but of a size unlikely to be encountered nowadays, and does not show clearly the more familiar facial appearance of cretinism which is better presented, though not all that well, in another picture on p. 239. A photograph of the mummy of Rameses V (p. 423) is purported to show lesions on the face suggestive of smallpox. A colour picture of the face of a patient with smallpox would be much more informative. Rightly or wrongly one gains the impression that the illustrations used may have been taken, for reasons of economy, from older publications of the Oxford University Press.

Not often is one moved to say ‘this is a must’ but it is. It would make a good late Christmas present.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press