Friday Reads: The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson

“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Topics may be new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 


This week, Reference Librarian, Donna Burgess, takes a turn with this column and highlights a new biography of James Parkinson, the man for whom Parkinson’s disease was named 200 year ago.

The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson: the pioneering life of a forgotten surgeon and the mysterious disease that bears his nameThe title of this book drew me in immediately. My sister was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was fifty years old, and each year she struggles with the onset of even more debilitating effects.

Written by Cherry Lewis, The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson delivers an appealing, often gruesome account of the life of a workaholic and highly respected surgeon-apothecary from a time long-ago.  In 1817, during the age of Enlightenment, he “defined this disease so precisely that we still diagnose Parkinson’s disease today by recognizing the symptoms he identified.”  Parkinson also helped Edward Jenner in inoculating Londoners against smallpox, being among the first to do so.

In addition to medicine, Parkinson had two other passions: politics and fossils, which were popular pastimes for upper crust Edwardians.  As a political radical, Parkinson was interrogated in the plot to assassinate King George III.  He became a founder of the Geological Society of London, and wrote a scientific paper on fossils, one of which, a Jurassic ammonite, was named for him: Parkinsonia parkonsoni.

A Kirkus review noted that The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson is “a fine biography of a colorful figure who lived in a turbulent era.” And Publisher’s Weekly stated, “Parkinson’s groundbreaking work, as Lewis notes, represented a ‘farsighted, questioning approach’ that ‘left us with a remarkable scientific and medical legacy’.” – Publishers Weekly

Look for this intriguing biography on the NEW nonfiction shelf, Call # 926.17 Parkinson.

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