Alisha Rankin, The Poison Trials: Wonder Drugs, Experiment, and the Battle for Authority in Renaissance Science (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2021), 329 pp., illus., $35 (paperback), ISBN 97 80 226 7448 58.
The Poison Trials is a book that well befits an era like ours, which is dominated by a pandemic. In fact, the plague was often associated with poison for its propensity to kill, as Alisha Rankin explains in her Introduction, and the plague was a major cause of pandemics in the past.
The idea for this special issue arose during the final conference of the Dutch-funded EDPOP Project (European Dimension of Popular Print) led by Jeroen Salman.1 Starting from a few of the presentations delivered during the session Popular medical books in Europe2 we thought of creating a small volume at the intersection of the history of medicine and the history of books. We decided to leave by the wayside the adjective popular, which always needs appropriate distinctions and justifications, and has been widely discussed by scholars since the last century.3
By drawing on a comprehensive bibliographic census (ISTC) this article offers a mapping of printed medical-scientific production in 15th-century Europe, with an eye to the manuscript tradition, the authorship status, and the use of Latin and vernaculars in a century of transition that was not merely linguistic. It identifies in some titles from the practical medicine category—namely books on materia medica, regimina sanitatis booklets and short medical poems—the crucial contribution of proto-typography to the wider dissemination of medical knowledge. In regard to some long-lived titles (Regimina Sanitatis Salernitana; Il perché by Girolamo Manfredi; Cibaldone), this paper explores the evolution of their material forms in the early modern centuries in the direction of a more enjoyable style that was far from being only professional, while new methodological research paths are suggested. The sheer variety of actual readers is focused in the case of printed herbals and of the Cibaldone. The popularity of such genres is ultimately couched within the lively context of household medicine in the early modern era.