Tarnished Idol. William Thomas Green Morton and the Introduction of Surgical Anesthesia. A Chronicle of the Ether Controversy. (mibt copy in mint dust jacket)

Publisher Information: San Francisco: Norman Publishing, 2001. Tarnished Idol is the first serious, scholarly biography of William T. G. Morton, the self-trained Boston dentist who is credited with demonstrating to the medical profession in 1846 the efficacy of sulfuric ether in allaying the pain of surgery. It is also the first detailed analysis of the "ether controversy," which grew out of Morton’s association with the physician-chemist Charles T. Jackson, who claimed to have given Morton the vital clues that led to his success. The controversy arose after Morton patented the discovery and attempted, over Jackson’s protestations, to reap a fortune from the controlled use of ether in surgery and dentistry. As a result, Morton spent much of the remainder of his life unsuccessfully trying to convince Congress that he was the discoverer of anesthesia, all in the expectation of receiving a large cash reward. Of the four book-length biographies of Morton previously published, two, by Benjamin Perley Poore (1856) and Nathan P. Rice (1859), were undertaken with Morton’s blessing and collaboration to help him justify his claim and cannot be considered as impartial or as much more than promotional literature. Two more recent biographies, by Rachel Baker (1946) and Grace Steele Woodward (1962), are semi-fictional, popular accounts that rely overly on the Rice biography for their orientation and facts. Tarnished Idol does not depict Morton heroically, as the other accounts do. Through exhaustive research in genealogical and land registry records as well as unpublished correspondence and manuscript sources, by continual reference to the contemporary newspaper and medical press, and through detailed examinations of Congressional testimony and debate, Mr. Wolfe presents a much different picture of Morton’s life and involvement in the anesthesia story than previously reported. Such evidence has enabled him to clearly show that William T. G. Morton was little more than an opportunist with only slight scientific knowledge and possessed of a highly flawed character, whose main goal in life was the accumulation of money, no matter how gained. From his boyhood wanderings in the Midwest in pursuit of a business career that featured forging, swindling, and thievery, crimes that on at least two occasions nearly resulted in his apprehension and imprisonment, to the street-fighting tactics he employed during his several appeals to Congress, his mindset never changed. Tarnished Idol furnishes ample proof that Morton’s personality and character deficiencies conditioned him to be totally unworthy and ill-prepared for the role he was to play when, by some odd twist of fate, he was chosen to help usher in one of the greatest advances in all of medicine. Time and again his errors of judgment and ill-conceived decisions resulted in disappointment, heartbreak, and, ultimately, tragedy for himself and for many of those with whom he interacted. In addition to examining Morton’s claim and all of the counterclaims to the discovery of anesthesia (Horace Wells, Jackson, Crawford W. Long, and others), Tarnished Idol provides a rich slice of American history in the antebellum era, flavored by glimpses of many outstanding personalities who trod the American scene of that period, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Henry Dana, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Seward, Stephen Douglas, Edward Everett, and Jefferson Davis. It also raises some thought-provoking questions about the rewards of medical discovery and the ethics of attempting to profit too greatly from it. Much of the information in Tarnished Idol relating to Morton’s life and the ether discovery and controversy appears here for the first time. This momentous work will surely stand as one of the most important analyses and chronicles of both a fascinating and controversial life and a significant episode in American history and achievement, arguably America’s first great contribution to medicine. 688 pages. 60 illustrations. Cloth, dust jacket, acid-free paper. 7" 10". ISBN 0–930405-81–1. Book Id: 37805

Price: $200.00

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