Book Review

British Dental Journal 196, 239 (2004)
Published online: 28 February 2004 | doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.4811009

Dental Practice in Europe at the End of the 18th Century

M Bishop

Books, videos, cd-roms, dvds and any other relevant items submitted for a review in the bdj should be addressed to: Mike Grace, Editor, British Dental Journal, 64 Wimpole Street W1G 8YS

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BOOK REVIEWEDDental Practice in Europe at the End of the 18th Century

  • C. Hillam
  • Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003: 518 pp.


"And what should they know of England, who only England know?" (Rudyard Kipling, 1892)

This is a splendid book, bold in conception and successful in realisation. The editor, the late Christine Hillam, whose own book Brass Plate and Brazen Impudence is essential reading for the student of the history of dentistry, has assembled eight contributors to describe the status of dental practice in five countries; France, The British Isles, The Netherlands, Hungary and Germany. Two diaspora nationals who contributed greatly to the profession are also spread within, Italian and Jewish.

The scholarship is uniformly impressive, as the authors introduce the reader to revolutionary Europe and the enterprising and brave men and women who laid the foundations of our profession. The sheer number of operators is remarkable, so there is much to instruct and marvel at, from a Turkish Doctor Ali in the Netherlands, via blockheaded bureaucrats, and a well respected operator who could neither read nor write in Germany, to the pity of an operator shot for being on the wrong side in the French Revolution and a female operator burnt as a witch in Hungary after extracting the wrong tooth.

The inevitable unevenness of such a 'volume of parts', as each contributor approaches the subject with a different technique is a bonus, adding freshness. Frank Huisman discussing the Dutch Republic and Thomas Nickol in Germany both extrapolate from a single town to illuminate the whole, while the section covering the British Isles by Dr Anne Hargreaves and her team of five, is more than just a digest of her seminal book White as Whales Bone. The Hungarian section by Judit Forrai is fascinating, and as with the others, written in clear readable style. (Huisman's own, the other non-English contributors translated or edited by Dr Hillam.)

The French section by Pierre Baron appropriately honours Fauchard by coming first. It is, by contrast to the others which expand on meaning, rather more one of 'pure' scholarship. Appendices give among other things, contemporary bibliographies for Germany and France, but slightly disappointingly, not for the British Isles.

This book is essential reading for any dental historian, and strongly recommended for anyone with an interest in their profession in general. The notes and references suggest other avenues for research. It is not cheap, but you will be getting five plus books in one.

Dr Hillam had brought the work nearly to completion by her untimely death in 2000, and the final touches were made by her husband. It is a most worthy and fitting memorial to her.

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