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The Worst of EvilsThe Worst of Evils

The Fight Against Pain

Thomas Dormandy

Narrated by Derek Perkins

Available from Audible

Book published by Yale University Press

This riveting book takes the reader around the globe and through the centuries to discover how different cultures have sought to combat and treat physical pain. With colorful stories and sometimes frightening anecdotes, Dr. Thomas Dormandy describes a checkered progression of breakthroughs, haphazard experiments, ignorant attitudes, and surprising developments in human efforts to control pain. Attitudes toward pain and its perception have changed, as have the means of pain relief and scientific understanding. Dr. Dormandy offers a thoroughly fascinating, multi-cultural history that culminates with a discussion of today’s successes—and failures—in the struggle against pain.

The book’s exploration is fused with accounts of the development of specific methods of pain relief, including the use of alcohol, plants, hypnosis, religious faith, stoic attitudes, local anesthesia, general anesthesia, and modern analgesics. Dr. Dormandy also looks at the most recent advances in pain clinics and palliative care for patients with terminal disease as well as the prospects for loosening pain’s grip in the future.

Thomas Dormandy, M.D, is consultant chemical pathologist and retired professor of chemical pathology, Whittington Hospital, University of London, and Brunel University, London. He is the author of the prizewinning book The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis.


“A near perfect historical record of the struggle against pain, although the hard won victory is as yet incomplete.”

British Medical Journal

The Worst of Evils is a valuable addition to studies in the history of pain and is recommended for both general readers and scholars.”

New England Journal of Medicine

“A remarkable cultural history of pain. … Dormandy’s splendid study…ends on ‘a note not of despair but of hope’.”

The Guardian

“Thomas Dormandy has produced a major work of medical history that deserves to be read. It is not dry toast, either, but is spread with bon mots and anecdotes.... This book was a pleasure to read.”


“...intriguing...The Worst of Evils is an intrepid, and tentatively hopeful account of a territory few of us will not come to know."”

The Irish Times

“Dr. Dormandy has performed brilliantly in his exhaustively researched, thoroughly credible, and frequently fascinating book.... The Worst of Evils belongs in the library of anyone interested in the history of medicine.”

First Things

“A rare book. It manages the Herculean tasks of being both vast in scope and yet simultaneously making you feel as though you are in a small seminar course with the author—an erudite scholar and an entertaining conversationalist.... Fascinating, engaging, and thought-provoking.”


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University Press Audiobooks
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University Press Audiobooks