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Publisher's Summary

"Delightfully horrifying." (Popular Science)

One of Mental Floss' Best Books of 2018

One of Science Friday's Best Science Books of 2018

This wryly humorous collection of stories about bizarre medical treatments and cases offers a unique portrait of a bygone era in all its jaw-dropping weirdness.

A puzzling series of dental explosions beginning in the 19th century is just one of many strange tales that have long lain undiscovered in the pages of old medical journals. Award-winning medical historian Thomas Morris delivers one of the most remarkable, cringe-inducing collections of stories ever assembled. 

Witness mysterious illnesses (such as the Rhode Island woman who peed through her nose), horrifying operations (1781: A French soldier in India operates on his own bladder stone), tall tales (like the "amphibious infant" of Chicago, a baby that could apparently swim underwater for half an hour), unfortunate predicaments (such as that of the boy who honked like a goose after inhaling a bird's larynx), and a plethora of other marvels. 

Beyond a series of anecdotes, these painfully amusing stories reveal a great deal about the evolution of modern medicine. Some show the medical profession hopeless in the face of ailments that today would be quickly banished by modern drugs; but others are heartening tales of recovery against the odds, patients saved from death by the devotion or ingenuity of a conscientious doctor.

However embarrassing the ailment or ludicrous the treatment, every case in The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth tells us something about the knowledge (and ignorance) of an earlier age, along with the sheer resilience of human life.

©2018 Thomas Morris (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“In The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine, Thomas Morris takes a delightful romp through a myriad of entertaining, arcane and obscure medical anecdotes plucked from 18th- and 19th-century newspapers, journals and textbooks.... Using a panoply of colorful examples, the author artfully illustrates the frustrations, uncertainty, poorly founded confidence and frequent futility of medical practice in the prescientific age.” (Wall Street Journal

"The vast amount of material from diverse sources will amuse readers and leave them shaking their heads...[an] informative, fascinating look at the history of medicine." (Library Journal

"A Ripley-esque collection of ‘compellingly disgusting, hilarious, or downright bizarre’ medical oddities...accompanied by the author's witty and often humorous, colloquial commentary." (Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth

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  • Overall
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Boring Toilet Humor

This is mostly classic British toilet humor, which can be amusing in very small doses, otherwise it is just boring. It is written as if the author scoured the internet for medical cases of genitals stuck in bottles, etc. or objects inserted in the rectum.

The humor, such as it is, is like being seated next to a bore at dinner who tells you nonstop puerile jokes, and when you don’t laugh, explains to you why they are funny. Fortunately, this an audio book, and not a dinner party, and you can shut it down immediately.

The narrator—the primary one being the author of the book— is adenoidal, monotone, and under the delusion he is something of a wit. He’s not. (See comment above about being stuck beside a boring dinner party guest.) Maybe if this had a better narrator it would be more palatable? I doubt it.

The additional narrator is ok.

13 people found this helpful

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Vastly Entertaining

Quite an enjoyable listen of old medical transcripts highlighted by the witty commentary of the author. Great concept well delivered.

9 people found this helpful

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If you have a weak stomach, probably avoid this.

Otherwise, this is a very interesting book and reasonably well performed, considering that one of the performers isn’t an actor. Besides a strong stomach, it would also be helpful if you had an acquaintance with British humor and a sense of humor yourself. If you’re a student of medicine, medical history, or the Victorian era, this book is a gem.

6 people found this helpful

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Funny and Informative

I was listening at work and caught myself cracking up multiple times. Strange wonderful tales of medicine gone wrong. I now have small talk for ages.

9 people found this helpful

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One of my favorite medicine-based books

I love the odd medical stories and this one has lots of them. It's very fascinating. I do a re-listen every once and a while just to enjoy it again. If medical oddities are your thing, you're going to enjoy it, too. It's not a technical read, just some odd stories gathered up from old medical journals and presented in a very interesting manner. They are often fascinating, horrifying, awesome and stunning by turn. You'll appreciate modern medicine a lot better after hearing some of these tales.

I found the two-person narration very well done, too. I really did thoroughly enjoy this book.

3 people found this helpful

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interesting stories, mediocre narrator

Interesting stories made worse by the author inserting jokes and offhand comments in the middle of the narrative.

3 people found this helpful

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I am SO glad that medicine has improved!

(As posted in GoodReads)
I could tell from the title that it was going to be humorous. The medicine discussed is from 100 and more years ago, and this results in humorously bad ideas, and frighteningly unsterile and painful techniques! People should have learned that the success of an individual technique did NOT necessarily imply the overall efficaciousness of said technique in all cases. I am so happy that science – and medicine – have improved greatly since then! It is still the case that sometimes doctors can say "I'm not sure WHY it works, but it does", but fortunately that attitude is not the ruling one in most cases. It is inconceivable that the idea of "the for humors" was popular as long as it was!
The litany of cases is truly interesting, and some of the successes go to show how resilient is the human body! Of course, the resilience of imagination is also pointed out :-)

2 people found this helpful

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Craving deeper investigation

Fun quips but overall the book is lacking in depth of story. The exploding teeth stories especially deserve more investigation! I generally prefer long-form science journalism, but I would have liked an entire book based on any of these short reports.

1 person found this helpful

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most entertaining

This title is brilliantly narrated by the author and a second narrator who cites the historical literature verbatim which is then reflected upon by the author. The subject is truly engaging, informative, and beautifully elucidated by the author. This is one audiobook I would listen to in the car and then pick up where I left off in my home on Alexa. I wish there were ten more hours of material to listen to in this book. Finished it in a couple of days.

1 person found this helpful

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Not what I was expecting

I was hoping for a variety of interesting strange and current set of medical oddity stories. The book is just medical stories from the Victorian era that at some point where kinda interesting, I guess. The best part of this was the narrator. I felt I had to force myself to finish this book.

7 people found this helpful