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Book Review : Herman Boerhaave: the man and his work

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Book Reviews
  • Literature
  • Medicine


In 1968, G A Lindeboom made his reputation in the English-speaking world as the chief expert on the history of Dutch medicine by publishing his biography of Boerhaave. (See the review in Medical History, 1969, 13 (4) by Lord Cohen of Birkenhead.) In that work he was significantly aided by E Ashworth Underwood, who refused to be named as co-author and simply provided a brief, signed Foreword. The book remains the only modern attempt in any language to comprehend the life and work of this most famous of eighteenth-century medical teachers and authors. Given that the original publication is now hard to obtain, Erasmus Publishing have brought out a new edition of the work, with a careful and perceptive introduction by M J van Lieburg about Lindeboom and his work that amounts to an important short biography of its own. The original edition has been entirely reset and is beautifully produced, while the alterations to the text are slight, only correcting errors. More important are Van Lieburg’s editorial interventions: the Latin parts have been dropped from appendix one (the Commentariolus, composed from Boerhaave’s autobiographical notes); appendix three is dropped entirely (the sale catalogue of Boerhaave’s collections); the bibliography is painstakingly corrected and brought up to date; and Lindeboom’s Bibliographia Boerhaaviana of 1959, also carefully expanded and corrected, is added as a final appendix. As he makes plain, the structure and aims of the original work show its age, but it remains a masterful synthesis of information then available in print, and with Van Lieburg’s editorial interventions, it will still be widely consulted by anyone wishing to embark on an acquaintance with Boerhaave and his publications.

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