There is much to enjoy in Gerald Weissmann’s new collection of essays. As readers of his previous books know well, this is a man conversant with lore in many areas— medicine, science, art, and history among them. Few are the doctor-writers who can draw the reader into a story with so sure a hand. He does this here in his account of the “Saturnine Gout,” that affliction of Englishmen in the eighteenth century. It seems that the British Foreign Minister of that time, objecting to the importation of so much French wine, arranged with the Portuguese to buy theirs instead. But the Portuguese wine was “fortified” with whiskey that had been aged in lead-lined containers. What the Minister had done was to poison a vast number of middle- and upper-class English gentlemen, giving them red noses, inflamed joints, all the stigmata of gout immortalized in the pictures of Rowlandson and Hogarth. The English poor who drank gin and beer...


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