Book Review – Between Flesh and Steel: A History of Military Medicine from the Middle Ages to the War in Afghanistan

“Between Flesh and Steel” is a book written by Gabriel, a great historian with a purpose of describing the military medicine evolution from the middle ages to the 21st century. The book gives detailed information on how soldiers in the battle field have been treated from the time the battle weapons were less severe to the current era where severe and more sophisticated weapons are used. Gabriel achieves greatly in demonstrating the advancement of military medicine and how it has been refined with time as the need to take care and preserve military troop grew in important to different countries. Initially, caring for the wounded soldiers was regard as a waste of resources. This made it almost impossible for the wounded soldiers to receive good treatment. Despite of weak weapons compared to the current situation, more soldiers died in the battle field due to lack of medical care. Gabriel has narrated how the advancement in military medicine has brought the contrast of low battle field mortality rate with advancement of military weapons (p. 36).

The book is considerably detailed, demonstrating various events that took place in different times, especially centuries and the changes that were made. Gabriel demonstrates his great ability to research to obtain detailed information regarding medical evolution in the military field. The book gives small details of how certain medical procedures especially surgeries were conducted and how these practices have changed with time. It has also managed to demonstrate the relation between the general medical discoveries and military treatment advancement. A good example in this case is experiencing more deaths from infectious diseases than war inflicted wounds (p.200). The book also demonstrates how change of weapons and the inflicted injuries and wounds has influenced advancements in surgical medical field. Gabriel thus demonstrates his knowledge in military medicine and war history, providing a rich source of information on the relation between the two. He also provides names of individuals who contributed to various medical breakthroughs in history, especially in military medicine, making his book quite informative, not just to history lovers, but also to anyone interested in specific historical details in the medical field. He gives finer details including the number of soldiers that died in various events for different reasons. For instance Gabriel states that “in Spanish-American War, typhoid killed 1580 men while only 23 died in action” (p. 200). This makes the book to be among the most informative historical work in the military medicine evolution field.

In this book, Gabriel has collected suitable information to contribute to the weapon invention versus military medical invention trend. He has arranged his sequence of events on increments of centuries though not on a constant 100 years interval. This has created disjoint in his work especially regarding major military medical advancements and discovery and events that initiated them. Probably he could have managed a better connection with the use of different warfare or specific wars as denoted by the history, based on change of military technology, or based on the changing medical practices and knowledge in the world in general. The current topic breaks fails in giving continuous narrative which can easily make it easy to recognize and identify major changes and trends. The current arrangement is considerably confusing and can only be understood by attentive readers who are keen in identifying the effect of certain identified procedures with time.

Gabriel, Richard A.  Between Flesh and Steel: A History of Military Medicine from the Middle Ages to the War in Afghanistan. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2013.


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