The Making of Modern Medicine

March 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

BBC - The Making of Modern Medicine

I’ve just finished listening to the BBC Radio series “The Making of Modern Medicine”. A total of 30 programmes about the development of medicine from the ancient Greece to the scientific medicine of today.

The series starts with a program about the four humours and ends with organ transplantation, making the journey through medical history chronologically, but with each programme centered around a topic. Thus every episode also reaches both backwards and forwards in time. The episode on tuberculosis for example, starts in the days it was called consumption and traces it’s history all the way to the discovery of antibiotics (photo credit). And all this in only 13 minutes.

TB patients on sun porch

Although each episode is relatively short, “The Making…” does not just skim the surface. It offers both a good overview of the history of medicine, as well as new and interesting details for those who’ve already read a few medical history books. Especially the extensive use of contemporary accounts, letters and book excerpts – read by actors – gives the series a unique atmosphere and makes it easier to understand the medical thinking of the different eras.

“The Making…” is written and narrated by Andrew Cunningham, medical historian at the Cambridge University. A lot of the series consists of him talking. You might think 6 hours of talking is a bit too much, but Cunningham is so full of knowledge and enthusiasm he grabs hold of you and put you right there inside Pasteur’s laboratory and Lister’s operating theatre.

That theatre was very dirty by the way. One of the dozen eye openers I got while listening to the series. Lister apparently had so much faith in his carbolic acid he didn’t bother to keep his theatres or wards clean. No wonder other surgeons were skeptical to his antisepsis.

The series is available on CD from and as a downloadable audiobook via iTunes.

Short summaries of all episodes are available at the series website. This article by Andrew Cunningham outlines the background to the series.

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