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von Noorden GK, ed. US$145. Belgium: Wayenborgh, 2002.
For those who specialise in the treatment of ocular motility disorders, it seems at times as though time has stood still. Compared with the technical and surgical innovations that have characterised the modern history of the treatment of cornea and retinal diseases, strabismologists have continued to use techniques and instruments devised in the mid-19th century. However, after reading von Noorden's The History of Strabismology, it becomes clear that the history of our specialty has been characterised by physicians and scientists possessing remarkable creativity and intellect striving to understand how the eyes move and the brain sees.
The History of Strabismology is the ninth volume of The History of Ophthalmology, a planned 21 volume series of monographs intending to comprehensively review the history of ophthalmology from ancient times to the current day. The author has chosen to review the history of strabismology not with a traditional “art through the ages” chronological approach, but rather from a geocentric approach. By enlisting prominent strabismologists from around the world as contributing authors, von Noorden allows the reader to discover how the discipline and practice of strabismology developed and evolved not just in Europe and the United States, but in countries and regions such as Mexico, Japan, South America, and Australia. In thoroughly researched and referenced chapters, the authors describe, time and again, how an ophthalmologist visiting Europe learns a technique, returns to his or her country, refines the technique and applies it to the patient population unique to his or her country. We learn of scoundrels and rogues who foist themselves on the public as miracle workers, only to be publicly exposed and discredited by ethical ophthalmologists of the day (lessons we could stand to relearn now again in the 21st century). We learn that aesthetic ideals are relative to time and place; such as the fact that in pre-Columbian times a slight degree of esotropia was found to be attractive and convergence was stimulated in infants by attaching a ball of beeswax to the child's hair to be left dangling between the eyes (vision therapy at its birth).
An often neglected but historically important discipline within the field of strabismus is the practice of orthoptics. In a carefully researched and beautifully illustrated chapter, section author Roper-Hall outlines the origins of the specialty and introduces us to the pioneering women and men who selflessly served, taught, and discovered in the clinics of the more famous titans of strabismology. Throughout the book, von Noorden takes pains to illuminate the lives and contributions of both major and minor players in the history of strabismus. The reader cannot help but see how the advancement of science in a discipline is dependent upon the close collaboration that takes place between mentor and student, doctor and patient, and clinician and scientist.
As with all the monographs in this series, the volume contains extensive illustrations, photographs and reproductions. Portraits and photographs of innovators in the field of strabismology flesh out the names we associate with instruments and techniques. Each section author provides numerous references of seminal papers on strabismus published from the corners of the globe. It is refreshing to see a book on history recognise the contributions from those outside the traditional medical centres of Europe/United Kingdom and the United States.
This book will be a valuable reference for all those who specialise in the area of strabismus and those interested in the history of ophthalmology. The illustrations and historical references will greatly enhance the quality of lectures on the topic of strabismus. Knowledge of the origins of critical thought and technical innovation concerning the aetiology and treatment of strabismus will stimulate further interest in today's students of ophthalmology. Finally, the knowledge that the pioneers of ophthalmology—von Graefe, Muller, Donders, and Helmholtz—placed the study and treatment of strabismus at an equal level of importance as the treatment of diseases of the lens, cornea, and retina serves notice to contemporary vision scientists and ophthalmologists not to neglect this most challenging discipline of ophthalmology—strabismus.
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