Literary Examiner


Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem

by Stephanie Bearce

$8.95; 60 pages

Ugh, you've been feeling kind of sick.

How did this happen? You're usually careful about these things. You wash your hands, and stay away from ailing friends, but there it is. Sniffles, cough, run-down tired, ugh. So while you're recuperating, read Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem by Stephanie Bearce, and you'll feel happy that you didn't live in ancient times.

Long ago, before hospitals and doctors, needles and IVs, ancient people didn't know about germs or microbes. They thought evil spirits or curses brought illness, so they treated patients with things that were sometimes disgusting. Even so, folks often died of ailments that you would hardly notice.

Says Bearce, "It took thousands of years of trial and error" before scientists and doctors figured out how to use some of the medicines we have now. In the meantime, anything from bad tooth or head-butt to skinned knee or finger cut could kill a person. To avoid the worst, ancient docs devised tools to bore holes into skulls, Egyptians relied on amulets and mouse paste (which is just what it sounds like), Native Americans used tobacco as medicine, and Roman physicians sometimes gave their patients clay to eat for whatever ailed them. Yummy.

Stephanie Bearce

Treatment was often worse than the illness, and some "cures" were really strange. Legend says that men in Arabia sometimes volunteered to go on a diet of only honey. After they died, they literally became medicine. Animal poop was often used as medicine, too, especially when mixed with other things. Who would admit to being sick if they had to take medicines like that?

Slowly, as time went on, though, we humans learned a thing or two. Dead bodies taught early doctors about muscles, blood, and bones. Some folk cures turned out to be correct. Laboratory work and the invention of microscopes proved that fungus, germs, bacteria, and disease were real. Vaccines were developed to avoid further sickness, and we learned how to avoid getting sick in the first place.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer: there's not a lot of mayhem inside Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem.

But that's okay. Author Stephanie Bearce adds enough cringey, disgusting, but oh-so-fascinating chapters to satisfy any kid who's looking for those exact things - and yet, what your child will read isn't just gratuitously icky. The chapters inside this book describe things that really happened, plagues that changed entire continents, accidents that furthered human knowledge, and Bearce uses that info to explain how those events affected everything afterward. Kids will get a good overview of how far we've come, medically speaking and, for the extra-curious, there's a great bibliography in the back for even more information.

While it's absolutely not for the squeamish, the nine-to-14-year-old with an inquisitive mind and historical interest will love every page of this fun book. He'll say that "Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem" is wicked sick.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is a professional book reviewer who has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book.


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