Charting Some Exploding Medical Mysteries

Charting Some Exploding Medical Mysteries
AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

“The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine” by medical historian Thomas Morris is a Ripley's Believe It or Not on the archaic experiences and practices of the healing profession.

Chapters conveying bizarre accounts of “Unfortunate Predicaments,” “Mysterious Illnesses,” “Dubious Remedies,” “Horrifying Operations,” “Remarkable Recoveries,” “Tall Tales,” and “Hidden Dangers” engage the reader in oftentimes cringe-worthy accounts that frequently stretch credulity and sometimes burst it. Documented reports of people surviving underwater for hours or even days or a man living to be 152 years old can readily be dismissed while the case of a 70-year-old pregnant woman is scrapped to the imagination.

“The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth” is salted with quite a bit of wry wit and peppered with reproductions of actual journal headlines and historic illustrations. Mr. Morris‘ accounts are derived mainly from medical journals, treatises and newspaper articles published in the 1700s and 1800s. In those days, an understanding of the origins of diseases and of the chemistry and mechanics of the human system were very limited. Understandably, cures were rather crude, often ineffective and potentially counter-productive and deadly.

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