Book Review: Blood & Guts: A Short History of Medicine

Hello all,

And welcome to yet another book review on our beloved blog bloodbonesandbodies, in which we discuss all things medical, scientific, and historical. This post series was designed to allow both Chris and I the opportunity to talk about what we’ve been reading in the down time between being students and generally being adults. This time, in this post we are going to be examining Blood & Guts: A Short History of Medicine by Roy Porter, a highly prominent academic in the history of medicine, and his summary of the last five hundred years or so year of medical history in all its ghoulish, grisly and often gruesome glory. So, without further ado, let us begin.

Cover of Blood & Guts: A Short History of Medicine, taken from the book’s page on

Firstly, this book seems to have a little something for everyone. Throughout the book, Porter explores the history of western medicine through engagement with a number distinct themes such as the doctor, the laboratory, and the disease itself. From his discussions over the impact that human town settlement had on the emergence of endemic diseases, to the emergence of laboratory medicine in Europe, to his discussions even over the potential course that medicine has yet to take, Porter takes a very broad look at the history of medicine throughout the course of his book which is both accessible and, perhaps more surprisingly, fun. As I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the musty laboratories, the dark apothecaries, and the dirty hospitals, Porter provided a wealth of interesting and useful information about a host of different beliefs, procedures, and even diseases, that made for a very enjoyable and, perhaps most importantly, interesting survey of the strange and often grisly history of medicine in the western world.

Perhaps the only criticism I can make of this particular book was that, for me, it was perhaps a little short. Not too short by any means (plus, it does say a short history of medicine on the tin), but by the end I was wanting more. Without the notes and other bibliographical writings at the end, the book itself was only 150 pages-or-so long which, for my liking, was a little short. I was just getting into the discussions of surgery, disease, and the hospital, when suddenly the final chapter loomed and I was somewhat disappointed it was coming to an end. The way it is written is incredibly accessible, as I can vouch that many writings on the history of medicine can be very dense indeed, and at times even somewhat light and humorous. The images that Porter included within his book provided a welcome opportunity to see some of the ways that medical knowledge was conceptualised, rather than simply reading about it,

All in all, Blood & Guts was exactly what I needed over the past few months. The book was short, yes, but it has only encouraged me to seek out the wider breadth of literature surrounding certain themes and ideas, especially the history of anatomy and the history of surgery in the Early Modern Period. Already, I have marked a number of books on the topic as ‘to read’ on my Goodreads page, have lined up Porter’s book on the history of ‘madness’, and am currently looking into a number of books on the history of anatomical knowledge. Although the book itself is arguably very, very short in its approach to five hundred years of advancement, this is perhaps the perfect starting point for an interest in the history of medicine, an appetisers board before deciding what to have for the main course and, as such, this book shines through as an excellent, short history of medicine.

All image use intended for criticism and review under the “Fair Use” Doctrine. No copyright infringement, defamation of character, or other economic infringements are intended, and all respective rights remain the properties of their respected owners.


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