How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
In the days of tall ships, one dreaded foe was responsible for more deaths at sea than piracy, shipwreck and all other illnesses combined: Scurvy. Countless mariners suffered an agonizing death, which began with bleeding gums, wobbly teeth, and the opening of old wounds. Surgeon James Lind, Captain James Cook and physician Sir Gilbert Blane undertook to solve the riddle of Scurvy. Their achievements heralded a new age and cracked the greatest medical mystery of the Age of Sail.
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Stephen R. Brown's award winning historical writing is clearly demonstrated in this fascinating story of the frustrating and agonisingly lengthy search for a cure for scurvy. Historians have estimated that over two million sailors perished from scurvy during the glorified Age of Sail - more than piracy, shipwreck or any other disease. The `Gray Killer' was a hideous affliction causing connective tissue to degenerate, old wounds to re-open and broken bones to separate, amongst other horrors. Untreated, it caused an agonising death. Physicians searched for decades for the cause and cure and the book details their many fatal errors. Incredibly, the relatively simple cure for this disease was missed on many occasions. It was also found, as early as the seventeenth century, that lemon juice prevented the onset and progression of the disease, yet this cure was overlooked again and again, in favour of newer and seemingly more erudite theories. The book is a catalogue of historical missed opportunities. Eventually, in the late eighteenth century, the surgeon James Lind, the great sea captain James Cook and the physician Sir Gilbert Blane undertook to investigate and defeat this scourge of seafarers. Working independently over several decades, they would eventually prove that scurvy was a disease of chemistry and food - not vapours and viruses. This is a fascinating historical investigation that reveals much about power and ignorance, courage and determination. Readers will become absorbed in the frustrating story of a cure that was found, ignored and lost before being finally re-discovered and implemented to the benefit of seafarers worldwide (Kirkus UK)