So the question for this first review of 2021 was do I review the book I started (and finished) in 2021 first, or the one I started in 2020 and finished in 2021 first? I have decided to review Sawbones: The Book first, because I’m pretty sure I started 2020 with Will My Cate Eat My Eyeballs? (which I greatly enjoyed) and there are some strong similarities, both being medical in nature, as well as presented by an expert (one of the co-authors of Sawbones is an MD) in a tone suitable for general knowledge and adding a touch of lightness.
I don’t really do podcasts, and Sawbones was/is originally a podcast which has apparently won several awards, so this book was my first experience. It’s essentially an exploration of various aspects of the history of medicine. The book is pretty episodic, which makes sense given its origins, and each section (not really chapter) has its own focus. The overall divisions are: “The Unnerving”, “The Gross”, “The Weird”, and “The Awesome”. Each division contains a series of vignettes both visual and textual that cover a range of subjects within the general category. The subjects include things like focusing on the history of treatments for ED and nausea, medical uses for substance including charcoal, mercury, and radium, and important/interesting historical figures such as Pliny the Elder, Paracelsus, and John Harvey Kellogg. There are also regular intermittent interruptions for segments such as “So What’s the Deal With” and “Misguided Medicine Hall of Fame”.
The information content was pretty interesting, although not especially in-depth. This makes sense considering the form and I didn’t mind so much since I have enough of a background in ancient and medieval stuff that I knew a bit about a lot of the topics already. I can understand a lot of the appeal of the podcast, but I do have a few things I wish the book had done a little differently. The big thing that annoyed me at times were the asides; a lot of times there’s commentary about how dumb or dangerous a lot of medical practices before modern medicine were. While the observation is true, the repetitive nature and the fact of hindsight and the scientific process gets almost totally ignored was irritating.
Also aggravating was the repeated attempts by the second co-author to be funny when he was in fact not. Whether or not Justin wrote these parts or is actually like that in real life is not the point; these asides are plentiful and they add very little to the written text. Either fill them in a bit, like more of the discussion when it’s Dr. Sydnee vs Justin in some sort of disagreement, or use that side-bar stuff less for trying to be silly. That part did not translate well to the textual format. Not all these bits were bad; the explanation of the four humors as Simpson characters was pretty brilliant. That said the near constant “stupid ancient people; moderns, do not attempt” got old, as did pretty frequent commentary along the lines of the composition of urine being “Oh, so it’s just like Gatorade! Okay, well less like Gatorade. At least it’s not like any particular flavor I’ve ever had. Did I miss Arctic Urine Blast?” On or two of this might be fine in an episode, but a whole strong of them when the episodes are converted to book got on my nerves after a while.
Overall, this is an informative and general entertaining look at the history and development of medical science since the ancient world. I do think though that I liked the 2020 start better than this one though.