Casanova’s Guide to Medicine written by Lisetta Lovett and published by Pen & Sword Books – £25.00 – Hardback – Pages 328

Giacomo Casanova’s (1725-1798) reputation as libertine has sadly eclipsed his talents as scholar, linguist, prolific writer and manqué doctor. Fortunately for us, he wrote his memoirs at the end of his life on the advice of his doctor to control his propensity to depression. Although these often have been harvested for information on political, cultural and social aspects of his time, the insights they give about medical practice and the lived experiences of illness have been largely neglected.

This book addresses this deficiency through exploring in detail what Casanova wrote on a variety of conditions that include venereal disease and female complaints, duelling injuries, suicide, skin complaints and stroke and even piles. These descriptions provide alternately grim and amusing insights about public health measures, the doctor-patient relationship, medical etiquette and the dominant medical theories of the era. To help the reader understand the historical significance of the medical subjects covered, the author integrates throughout the book an extensive historical context drawn from contemporary sources of information and current history of medicine literature.

This book was a thoroughly good read, and certainly an interesting read to see what the contemporary thought of medicine was at the time of Casanova in the 18th century. It was a fascinating book in that some of the diseases and medical problems we now know a lot more about, but it was good to read how people looked at the problems then. This book has some great little details and stories, I particularly enjoyed reading about the Bolognese Itch and how it showed that if people just cleaned and bathed themselves that would sort half of the problems out. I enjoyed the way this book was written and it didn’t feel too formal either, a really good read that I would happily recommend to others.