The Devil’s Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science
Author: Philip Ball
Publisher: William Heinemann
Price: £20 (hardback)
Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, was born in 1493 in Switzerland. He was a physician and alchemist well ahead of his time in his thinking, who urged his students to use reason rather than traditional practice.His most enduring message was that there was no room in medicine for religious superstition, and he also realised that whether a substance was beneficial or poisonous often depended on the dose.
This extensively researched book is not only a biography, but also a study of the era that produced this pioneer of OH.However, it is not so much a book about occupational health, making only a passing reference to Paracelsus’ OH manual, On the Miner’s Sickness and Other Miners’ Diseases. Rather, it is more about the enlightened thinking in Germany, Austria and Saxony that led to the Protestant movement and rapid advances in medicine and astronomy, and provided the first hints of understanding of the impact of work on health.
Paracelsus reminded the nobility about their responsibility to the humble labourer: “No good can happen to the poor with the rich being what they are. They are bound together as with a chain. Learn, you rich, to respect these chains.”
The author, Philip Ball, is an award-winning science writer of books such as Critical Mass:How one thing leads to another, and H2O: A biography of water.
Reviewed by Bashyr Aziz, senior lecturer in OH, University of Wolverhampton