Book Review: The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris.

Study breaks in beautiful multistory bookshops are dangerous. After a long study session in Senate House, I wandered into Gower St’s Waterstones and my day was made; a beautiful bookshop with artwork, study spaces and a WHOLE WALL OF MEDICAL HISTORY BOOKS. After an hour I left with a beautiful wee book, one that I had had my eye on for a long time, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities.

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First off, the cover is stunning. A beautiful shade of blue with lovely floating illustrations of the various cases featured in the book and little shards of a tooth. I live in a grungy student maisonette with no communal area but I wish I had a little coffee table to place this book on. It would bring to delight to all that peruse it.

My copy has a little advertisement on the front saying ‘Horrible Histories for Adults’ and I can see the comparison. The book features weird and unusual medical cases of the gross, mischievous and saucy. I will never look an egg cup in the same way again. Morris proves that history can be funny and that people never change. What’s lovely too, is the way Morris contains tales of misadventure without ever making fun of those featured, which could be easily done and would cheapen the humour. The book kind of seems like a celebration and acknowledgement of our enduring habit of being A* muppets. I don’t necessarily believe this book is purely for adults though; the book would be a great introduction to the history of medicine and also print history for a mature history-minded child.

The book isn’t just a collection of tales of ailment by misadventure. Some of the cases are touching, mildly terrifying or a poignant reflection on the mental and physical conditions that have plagued us for centuries. You will also thank your lucky stars that you’re are alive now! The medical treatments of the past are not for the faint of heart.

Another thing I like about this book is its breadth. The cases are from multiple countries giving a broader overview of the history of medicine than if it was just anglocentric. But my absolute favourite thing about this book is the fact it contains sections of the print journals and articles from which the cases are taken. As somebody who is interested in the medical humanities and studying book history, I loved seeing little snapshots of the print media. It was lovely to have print, archival work and archives feature within the book.

This book is an enjoyable, easy read. I devoured it all in one go, but the book is also dip-in-able. A perfect coffee table book to surreptitiously make your guests fall in love with the history of medicine and ‘make you grateful for modern medicine.’

Follow Thomas Morris on Twitter at @thomasgmorris . Check out his blog at www.thomas-morris.uk.

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