100 books like Bodies Politic

By Roy Porter,

Here are 100 books that Bodies Politic fans have personally recommended if you like Bodies Politic. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

Patricia Fara Author Of Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career

From my list on enlightenment science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and I’ve written several popular books as well as featuring in TV/radio programmes such as In Our Time and Start the Week (BBC). I love the challenge of explaining to general audiences why the history of science is such an exciting and important subject – far more difficult than writing an academic paper. I believe that studying the past is crucial for understanding how we’ve reached the present – and the whole point of doing that is to improve the future. My underlying preoccupations involve exploring how and why western science has developed over the last few centuries to become the dominant (and male-dominated) culture throughout the world.

Patricia's book list on enlightenment science

Patricia Fara Why did Patricia love this book?

James Delbourgo’s book shows that history matters. As the founder of London’s British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane has always played an important part in displaying our national heritage, and Delbourgo’s book explores the wondrousness of the artifacts he amassed from all over the world. But it also reveals how his wealth, fame, and success depended on the international trade in enslaved peoples during the eighteenth century. Sloane’s statue has not been destroyed, but it no longer stands prominently in the Museum’s entrance hall. Like Delbourgo, I believe we need to examine and confront the deeds of previous generations, and his book appeared while I was grappling with similar dilemmas about Sloane’s predecessor as President of the Royal Society, Sir Isaac Newton.

By James Delbourgo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Collecting the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Leo Gershoy Award
Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
A Times Book of the Week
A Guardian Book of the Week

"A wonderfully intelligent book."
-Linda Colley

"A superb biography-humane, judicious and as passionately curious as Sloane himself."
-Times Literary Supplement

When the British Museum opened its doors in 1759, it was the first free national public museum in the world. Collecting the World tells the story of the eccentric collector whose thirst for universal knowledge brought it into being.

A man of insatiable curiosity and wide-ranging interests, Hans Sloane assembled a collection of antiquities, oddities, and…


Book cover of The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion

Nicholas Hudson Author Of A Political Biography of Samuel Johnson

From my list on why the Enlightenment is the beginning of the modern world.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teacher and writer, I am a passionate believer in the ideals of the Enlightenment. In my understanding of these ideals, they include a belief in reason and honest inquiry in the service of humanity. More and more we need these ideals against bigotry, self-delusion, greed, and cruelty. The books recommended here are among those that helped to inspire me with continued faith in the progress of the human species and our responsibility to help each other and the world we live in.

Nicholas' book list on why the Enlightenment is the beginning of the modern world

Nicholas Hudson Why did Nicholas love this book?

What really attracted to me about this book was Jenny Uglow’s ability to bring the eighteenth century alive in her biographies of five men – Josiah Wedgwood, Mathew Boulton, James Watt, Eramus Darwin, and Joseph Priestley – who met every month near Birmingham when the moon was full (so that they could see their way home).

These men genuinely transformed the world with their discoveries that created and powered the first factories and revolutionized our understanding of the natural and chemical worlds. For some reason I always remember Uglow’s description of Wedgwood, who invented the process for mass producing china, being so scientifically curious that he insisted on sitting up to watch his own leg being amputated.

This book is a wonderful, personal introduction to the English Enlightenment.

By Jenny Uglow,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Lunar Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1760s a group of amateur experimenters met and made friends in the English Midlands. Most came from humble families, all lived far from the center of things, but they were young and their optimism was boundless: together they would change the world. Among them were the ambitious toymaker Matthew Boulton and his partner James Watt, of steam-engine fame; the potter Josiah Wedgwood; the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor, and theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles). Later came Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and fighting radical.

With a small band of allies they formed the…


Book cover of The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science

Gina Rippon Author Of Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds

From my list on women’s science superpowers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a myth-busting feminist neuroscientist waging a campaign against the rigid gender stereotypes that govern so much of our lives and set so many onto unfulfilling paths. Seeing how often the brain gets dragged into explanations for gender gaps, I put my neuroscience hat on to check back through science and through history to find the truth behind the idea that female brains were different (aka inferior) and that their owners were therefore incompetent and incapable. What a myth! Nowhere does this play out more clearly than in the history of women in science, as shown by the books on this list. 

Gina's book list on women’s science superpowers

Gina Rippon Why did Gina love this book?

If you know anyone who still holds on to the belief that science can operate in a political vacuum, please thrust this book upon them! In 1673, a brave philosopher called Francois Poullain de la Barre publicly observed that he saw no reason why women could not be treated as the equals of men in all spheres of influence, including science. The Mind has no Sex, he declared! In this wonderfully readable book on the history of women in science, Londa Schiebinger shows us just how that belief played out. Track the jaw-dropping arrogance of science’s male gatekeepers as they systematically used every trick in their power to exclude women, weaponising their biology against them (Blame the Brain!), demeaning and downgrading their annoyingly evident talents. This book will make you angry – and so it should!

By Londa Schiebinger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mind Has No Sex? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As part of his attempt to secure a place for women in scientific culture, the Cartesian Francois Poullain de la Barre asserted as long ago as 1673 that "the mind has no sex." In this rich and comprehensive history of women's contributions to the development of early modern science, Londa Schiebinger examines the shifting fortunes of male and female equality in the sphere of the intellect. Schiebinger counters the "great women" mode of history and calls attention to broader developments in scientific culture that have been obscured by time and changing circumstance. She also elucidates a larger issue: how gender…


Book cover of The Ambiguous Frog: The Galvani-Volta Controversy on Animal Electricity

Patricia Fara Author Of Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career

From my list on enlightenment science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and I’ve written several popular books as well as featuring in TV/radio programmes such as In Our Time and Start the Week (BBC). I love the challenge of explaining to general audiences why the history of science is such an exciting and important subject – far more difficult than writing an academic paper. I believe that studying the past is crucial for understanding how we’ve reached the present – and the whole point of doing that is to improve the future. My underlying preoccupations involve exploring how and why western science has developed over the last few centuries to become the dominant (and male-dominated) culture throughout the world.

Patricia's book list on enlightenment science

Patricia Fara Why did Patricia love this book?

Electricity was by far the most popular science of the Enlightenment – ‘an Entertainment for Angels’, as one fictional young woman enthused. Marcello Pera’s slim book is delightfully written, but also philosophically profound. It surveys with great humour the diverse array of electrical devices, tricks and performances that were created as money-spinners in Europe’s rapidly commercialising society. But it also picks apart the confrontation between electricity’s two Italian figureheads: Luigi Galvani (who made frogs’ legs twitch) and Alessandro Volta (the Napoleonic devotee who introduced current electricity). These debates were not only about who was right, but also about how to win over converts and eliminate the opposition.

By Marcello Pera,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ambiguous Frog as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How do ideas become accepted by the scientific community? How and why do scientists choose among empirically equivalent theories? In this pathbreaking book translated from the Italian, Marcello Pera addresses these questions by exploring the politics, rhetoric, scientific practices, and metaphysical assumptions that entered into the famous Galvani-Volta controversy of the late eighteenth century. This lively debate erupted when two scientists, each examining the muscle contractions of a dissected frog in contact with metal, came up with opposing but experimentally valid explanations of the phenomenon. Luigi Galvani, a doctor and physiologist, believed that he had discovered animal electricity (electrical body…


Book cover of The Diary of William Harvey: The Imaginary Journal of the Physician Who Revolutionized Medicine

Helen King Author Of Greek and Roman Medicine

From my list on discovering the circulation of the blood.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by history since I was a fairly sickly child, which means I was gradually drawn towards the history of medicine. Add to that having a hereditary blood clotting condition and you can see why this topic appeals to me! I have a BA and a PhD in History from University College London and have held posts in the universities of Cambridge, Newcastle, Reading, and then at The Open University. I’ve also held visiting professorships in Vienna, Texas, and Minnesota and have published six books as well as editing others. I’m sort of retired but still writing and lecturing.

Helen's book list on discovering the circulation of the blood

Helen King Why did Helen love this book?

It was a great idea to make Harvey come to life by imagining what he’d have written in his diary! This is a well-researched book which gets across how much more there was to Harvey than just the circulation of the blood. His family, his work on the development of the embryo, his role as a physician to King Charles I, and his encounters with witches – a great story – as well as a convincing sense of the sort of man he was and of the times in which he lived.

By Jean Hamburger, Barbara Wright (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Diary of William Harvey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French


Book cover of Victorian Pharmacy: Rediscovering Home Remedies and Recipes

Lisa M. Lane Author Of Murder at Old St. Thomas's

From my list on the wonders of Victorian medicine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in the history of medicine, particularly the ways in which historical methods are portrayed to be inferior to modern medicine. As a historian, I am alternately amused and horrified at the way we go overboard in discarding historical methods of healthcare, ridding ourselves of perfectly useful techniques, drugs, and therapies. The more I learn about older curative methods, the more I’ve become sensitive to the knowledge and technologies that have been lost. At the same time, I am fascinated by new technologies, and find anesthesia particularly captivating as a technique that improved survival and recovery from what had previously been deadly conditions.

Lisa's book list on the wonders of Victorian medicine

Lisa M. Lane Why did Lisa love this book?

A clever introduction to Victorian pharmaceuticals and remedies, this is a companion book for the popular BBC television series. It provides an explanation of the natural substances used for healing, and how they were made into marketable and regulated medicines for sale at the apothecary shop. The emphasis is on safety, because the authors don’t want you trying arsenic and mercury-based compounds at home, and indeed they leave out a great many useful Victorian remedies, particularly those containing opium! But the knowledge about how apothecary shops worked, and what the pharmacist did to turn plants and other substances into medicine, is invaluable.

By Jane Eastoe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Victorian Pharmacy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ties in to a fantastic new four-part BBC series from the makers of the hit Victorian Farm Shows how many products on sale in our high street chemists today can trace their origins back to nineteenth century formulations Full of fascinating facts, remedies and recipes to try at home Victorian Farm sold over 40,000 copies (Nielsen Bookscan figures)

This is the story of consumer medicine - how high street healthcare emerged in just 50 years and how we still rely on hundreds of formulations and products that can trace their origins back to the nineteenth century.

Sun cream, treatments for…


Book cover of The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England's Most Eminent Surgeon

Patrice McDonough Author Of Murder by Lamplight

From my list on offbeat books about the Victorian Era.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a reading and history-loving family. My parents read all the time, and their books of choice combined historical fiction and nonfiction. It’s no wonder I ended up teaching high school history for over three decades. The first books I read were my older brother’s hand-me-down Hardy Boys. Then, I went on to Agatha Christie. Books written in the 1920s and 30s were historical mysteries by the time I read them decades later, so the historical mystery genre is a natural fit. As for the Victorian age, all that gaslight and fog makes it the perfect milieu for murder.

Patrice's book list on offbeat books about the Victorian Era

Patrice McDonough Why did Patrice love this book?

This superb biography is an engrossing account of the mysterious title surgeon and the doctor’s fascinating world. James Miranda Barry joined the British Army in 1813 as a regimental surgeon and served in colonial posts for the next fifty years. But Barry had been born Margaret Bulkley, an anatomical female—a surprise revealed after the doctor’s death.

Was Barry’s masquerade strategic, the doctor’s only route to a medical career? Was Barry a transgender person? I wondered if the “truth” would remain a mystery. Rachel Holmes persuaded me that the probable answer lies in a document “gathering dust” in Edinburgh’s medical school archives, a revelation she saves for the last chapter. 

By Rachel Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Life of Dr James Barry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A reissue of Rachel Holmes's landmark biography of Dr James Barry, one of the most enigmatic figures of the Victorian age. James Barry was one of the nineteenth century's most exceptional doctors, and one of its great unsung heroes. Famed for his brilliant innovations, Dr Barry influenced the birth of modern medical practice in places as far apart as South Africa, Jamaica and Canada. Barry's skills attracted admirers across the globe, but there were also many detractors of the ostentatious dandy, who caused controversy everywhere he went. Yet unbeknownst to all, the military surgeon concealed a lifelong secret at the…


Book cover of Forensic Medicine

Colin Cotterill Author Of The Coroner's Lunch

From my list on reads whilst awaiting radiology and/or death.

Why am I passionate about this?

When you write a book, it’s natural to put yourself in it. You’re the avenger, the rookie agent, the hard-drinking detective. But how many of us volunteer to be the corpse? I sit here every day in the cancer unit at a public Thai hospital and smile at folks who won’t be around much longer. I wrote fifteen books in a series about a coroner. I painted the victims colorfully when they were still alive but how much respect did I show them once they were chunks of slowly decaying meat? From now on my treatment of the souls that smile back at me will take on a new life.

Colin's book list on reads whilst awaiting radiology and/or death

Colin Cotterill Why did Colin love this book?

I thought I should include a book you have no chance of finding without dredging the second-hand book warehouses in Hay, Wales. (Which is where I found it). Like my protagonist, I had no idea about forensic medicine. But I couldn’t begin my studies in this day and age of CSI and DNA. I had to find a textbook that my Dr. Siri might use to solve cases back in the seventies. This was it, plus hundreds of gruesome photos for your coffee table. Like a true scientist, Dr. Simpson affords the dead not a shred of dignity.  

By Keith Simpson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forensic Medicine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Good reference. Many photos, some pretty gruesome. Shipped in cardboard mailer.


Book cover of Female Patients in Early Modern Britain: Gender, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Jennifer Evans Author Of Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740

From my list on early modern medicine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire where I teach early modern history of medicine and the body. I have published on reproductive history in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The history of medicine is endlessly diverse, and there are so many books on early modern medicine, some broad and others more specific, it’s this variety that I find endlessly intriguing. Some conditions from the era, like gout and cancer, are familiar, while others like, greensickness, aren’t recognized any longer. Thinking about these differences and about how people’s bodies ached and suffered helps me to appreciate their relationships, struggles, and triumphs in a whole new dimension.

Jennifer's book list on early modern medicine

Jennifer Evans Why did Jennifer love this book?

I am always fascinated by gender history and women’s experiences in the past. Churchill’s book puts women front and center and considers how medical practitioners understood women’s bodies and health and what women experienced as patients. The book covers traditionally feminine conditions – gynecological and obstetrical issues – but also looks at disorders that affected both men and women, including smallpox, and mental health – hysteria and hypochondria. I like the way this book thinks through all aspects of women’s experiences, how their disorders were understood, who they sought treatment from, and how those treatments were adapted to the specifics of the female body (menstruation and lactation).

By Wendy D. Churchill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Female Patients in Early Modern Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This investigation contributes to the existing scholarship on women and medicine in early modern Britain by examining the diagnosis and treatment of female patients by male professional medical practitioners from 1590 to 1740. In order to obtain a clearer understanding of female illness and medicine during this period, this study examines ailments that were specific and unique to female patients as well as illnesses and conditions that afflicted both female and male patients. Through a qualitative and quantitative analysis of practitioners' records and patients' writings - such as casebooks, diaries and letters - an emphasis is placed on medical practice.…


Book cover of Operations Without Pain: The Practice and Science of Anaesthesia in Victorian Britain

Lisa M. Lane Author Of Murder at Old St. Thomas's

From my list on the wonders of Victorian medicine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in the history of medicine, particularly the ways in which historical methods are portrayed to be inferior to modern medicine. As a historian, I am alternately amused and horrified at the way we go overboard in discarding historical methods of healthcare, ridding ourselves of perfectly useful techniques, drugs, and therapies. The more I learn about older curative methods, the more I’ve become sensitive to the knowledge and technologies that have been lost. At the same time, I am fascinated by new technologies, and find anesthesia particularly captivating as a technique that improved survival and recovery from what had previously been deadly conditions.

Lisa's book list on the wonders of Victorian medicine

Lisa M. Lane Why did Lisa love this book?

The development of anesthesia was met with confusion, dismissal, and even derision. While today we are accustomed to the idea of the patient being asleep, at the time it was seen as similar to operating on a dead body. Without the indications of pain or relief, how was the surgeon to feel what he was doing? And in its earliest days, some forms of anesthesia could be dangerous, the patient dying if the dosage wasn’t correct or they had an adverse reaction. But for the patient, and for surgeons who needed more time for an operation, anesthesia was an unequivocal blessing that took away pain and made life-saving procedures possible.

By Stephanie J. Snow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Operations Without Pain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The introduction of anaesthesia to Victorian Britain marked a defining moment between modern medicine and earlier practices. This book uses new information from John Snow's casebooks and London hospital archives to revise many of the existing historical assumptions about the early history of surgical anaesthesia. By examining complex patterns of innovation, reversals, debate and geographical difference, Stephanie Snow shows how anaesthesia became established as a routine part of British medicine.


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