Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.


Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login


A fascinating look at the history of toxicology

An interesting but brief overview of medical science and toxicology from 400AD to 1600AD.

Book cover of 'Toxicology in the middle ages and renaissance'

Toxicology in the middle ages and renaissance, edited by Philip Wexler. Pp xviii+174. Price £24.99 London: Academic Press; 2017. ISBN 978 0 12 809554 6

The first two volumes in the History of Toxicology and Environmental Health Series, edited by Philip Wexler, describe toxicology in antiquity. This new book continues the story by covering the approximate period between 400AD and 1600AD. It consists of 16 chapters written by contributors from various institutions in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

The first part of the book describes the work of some prominent medieval Islamic toxicologists and later physicians and philosophers, such as Paracelsus, Maimonides and Pietro d’Abano, which enables the reader to begin linking up the gradual consolidation of knowledge about poisons. Other sections cover the activities of some infamous figures such as the Borgia and Medici families, an exploration of some alchemical perspectives of poisons, animal venoms, medical literature of the period, the odd substances used as antidotes and the toxic hazards of mining.

The strength of the book lies in the clear, lively style of writing but its weakness is in attempting to cover such a wide range of subjects over 12 centuries in a relatively slim book. Discounting the copious references and the index leaves about 140 pages many of which have illustrations of the people mentioned in the text and images of some original manuscripts. Although well written there is not enough space to go into great detail and the space allocated seems uneven in places. In the chapter on medieval Islamic toxicologists, for example, some of the individuals mentioned only get a few lines of text giving a name and dates but little else. Conversely, the use of various animal parts as antidotes take up several chapters and a fairly robust defence of the Borgias has a whole chapter of its own.

The book is worth reading and will interest anyone curious about the history of medical science as well as medical students and toxicologists but it should be considered a brief albeit fascinating overview rather than a detailed insight into the development of toxicology in this period.

Roger Poole

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202644

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press

  • Pharmaceutical Toxicology

    Pharmaceutical Toxicology

    Explains the methodology and requirements of pre-clinical safety assessments of new medicines. Includes registration requirements and pharmacovigilance.

    £40.00Buy now
  • Applications of LC-MS in Toxicology

    Applications of LC-MS in Toxicology

    Practical, hands-on information on the application of LC-MS in the field of toxicology.

    £140.00Buy now
  • English Delftware Drug Jars

    English Delftware Drug Jars

    This beautiful book illustrates the art and history of the collection of English delftware drug jars in the Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

    £54.00Buy now
  • Complete Guide to Medical Writing (The)

    Complete Guide to Medical Writing (The)

    Effectively communicate scientific and medical information with The Complete Guide to Medical Writing.

    £27.00Buy now
  • Popular Medicines

    Popular Medicines

    An illustrated history of some of the most popular branded medicines. Includes colourful historical adverts and details of the medicine's formula and intended purpose.

    £22.00Buy now

Search an extensive range of the world’s most trusted resources

Powered by MedicinesComplete
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Supplementary images

  • Book cover of 'Toxicology in the middle ages and renaissance'

Jobs you might like

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.