In This Review

The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine
The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine
By Thomas Helling
Pegasus, 2022, 496 pp.

It is one of the paradoxes of war that the enormous effort put into harming people often gives rise to medical breakthroughs and great strides in the treatment of the wounded. This valuable and thoroughly interesting study, informed by the author’s own experience of military surgery, contributes to the histories of both World War I and modern medicine. Helling shows how the horrors of war spurred medical research, including about how to address the effects of gas, reconstruct disfigured faces, use simple splints so that shattered limbs mended in ways that avoided later deformities, understand the psychology of “shell shock,” and deal with the influenza epidemic that began in 1918. It was not just new techniques that made the difference but also new infrastructure, as surgical facilities were moved closer to the frontlines so that soldiers could be treated as quickly as possible.