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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Bodies Politic

Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900

Bodies Politic takes a critical look at representations of the body in death, disease, and health, as well as at images of the healing arts in Britain from the mid-seventeenth to the twentieth century. Arguing that great symbolic weight was attached to contrasting conceptions of the healthy and diseased body, Roy Porter shows that such ideas were mapped onto antithetical notions of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. With these images in mind, he explores aspects of being ill alongside the practice of medicine, paying special attention to self-presentations by physicians, surgeons, and quacks and the changes in practitioners’ public identities over time. Packed with amusing anecdotes and unusual illustrations, this book is a magisterial account of the meanings of disease, doctoring, and the “body politic.”
“A wonderful book. . . . There are 137 illustrations . . . and every one is an exultation in the fleshly horrors of the era.”—Guardian (UK)
“Roy Porter is one of the world’s best historical writers: his prose is pithy, witty, vivid, engaging, and perfectly paced. He has a keen eye for evidence and can wrest conclusions with analytical rigour and imaginative subtlety. He masters fact and theory with equal ease and wields both lightly and powerfully.”—Independent

328 pages | 32 color plates, 105 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Picturing History

History: General History

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“Ably exploiting the rapid expansion of printed material (medical almanacs, magazines, newspapers, novels and their associated visual images such as the political cartoon) across that period, Porter has woven a neat but complex discursive tapestry charting the changing faces, models, and meanings of early modern medical knowledge and practice in particular.”

Reviews in History

“The book fairly quivers with Porter’s sense of the ridiculous, exploring the peccadilloes of both practitioners and patients in wicked and sometimes scatological detail. It is full of jokes that reveal both the deadly importance of, and the universal indignities associated with suffering and healing. As is true of Porter’s other works, it also places health, illness, and medicine at the vital center of British social and political life.”

H-Net Reviews

Table of Contents



1. Introductory: Framing the Picture

2. The Body Grotesque and Monstrous

3. The Body Healthy and Beautiful

4. Imagining Disease

5. Prototypes of Practitioners

6. Profiles of Patients

7. Outsiders and Intruders

8. Professional Problems

9. The Medical Politician and the Body Politic

10. Victorian Developments



Select Bibliography

Photographic Acknowledgements


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