Book Review: Between Flesh and Steel: A History of Military Medicine from the Middle Ages to the War in Afghanistan


by Richard A. Gabriel

Washington: Potomac Books, 2013. Pp. xii, 302. Tables, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1612344208

The prolific Prof. Gabriel (Royal Military College Canada) gives us a readable, informative, and insightful look at the rise of modern military medicine. 

Between Flesh and Steel is essentially a sequel to his excellent 2012 book Man and Wound in the Ancient World: A History of Military Medicine from Sumer to the Fall of ConstantinopleGabriel opens with a quick survey of trends in the nature of warfare from the mid-fifteenth century, with gunpowder marking the beginning of “modern” war, through to the present.  There follows a chapter on the evolution of military medicine during the Renaissance, and then five more chapters that cover developments in military medicine on a century-by-century basis from the seventeeht century to the present. 

This is primarily the story of how physicians and surgeons, as well as military bureaucrats, sought ways to cope with changes in the nature of the injuries that gunpowder weapons could inflict and to improve the health of increasingly larger armies, a process rooted in the revival of empiricism in the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient military practice. 

Gabriel is not, however, confined by this chronological approach.  His account roams back and forth through history, often reminding us of the “lost” medical practices of Classical Antiquity or other periods.  He crosses borders at will to compare and contrast developments in different armies and cultures over the ages, and he closes with some reflections on warfare. 

Full of often grim statistics, and populated by some interesting, occasionally amusing characters, Between Flesh and Steel is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in history.

Note: Between Flesh and Steelis also available in e-Book form, ISBN 978-1-61234-421-8.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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