Respiratory Physiology: People and Ideas. Edited by John B. West. New York, American Physiological Society, Oxford University Press, 1996. Pages: 431. Price:$85.00.
Did you know that oxygen was discovered in 1777 by the French scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, who later died by guillotine during the French Revolution? Were you aware that many physiologists thought that combustion and tissue oxygenation were the same chemical process until Eduard Pfluger (1829–1910) showed that metabolism takes place in the peripheral tissues and the role of blood is to transport the oxygen and carbon dioxide? If you are a history buff or if you are interested in tracing the roots of modern pulmonary physiology, then Respiratory Physiology: People and Ideas, edited by John B. West, is the book for you.
This book is the fifth book of the American Physiological Society's People and Ideas series, which explores the historical development of discoveries in cardiovascular, renal, endocrine, membrane transport, and respiratory physiology. The 12 chapters of the Respiratory Physiology volume are organized into five sections that span the field of respiration physiology: Morphology, Gas Exchange and Blood Flow, Mechanics, Control of Ventilation, and Comparative Physiology. The book offers a unique historical perspective into advances in each of these areas from the vantage of the living “greats” in respiratory physiology. Chapters are written by prominent physiologists, including several known to anesthesiologists, such as Ewald R. Weibel (generations of the tracheobronchial tree), John B. West (gravitational model of pulmonary blood flow), John W. Severinghaus (blood gas analysis), Jere Mead and Peter T. Macklem (lung mechanics and respiratory muscle function), Norman C. Staub, Sr. (pulmonary edema formation), and John Widdicombe (respiratory reflexes). Some chapters review the historical background beginning in the days of Galen in 100–200 A.D. and extending until modern times. Others provide a more personal account of the author's discoveries and contributions to respiratory physiology in the 1940s-1970s.
Respiratory Physiology: People and Ideas vividly illustrates how old concepts and theories in physiology slowly change through history as advances in technology permit more in-depth study and gains in knowledge. The book shows the reader how much of the present research in respiratory physiology is a refinement of the “great era” of advances in respiration surrounding World War II, as more sophisticated techniques are used to address the same questions. The book also demonstrates the importance of whole-organ physiology in the past, present, and future. I only regret that each chapter did not contain a current picture of the author for posterity.
In summary, Respiratory Physiology: People and Ideas is a highly specialized book that is not for the average anesthesiology resident or practitioner. It is, however, a book of historical importance for general anesthesiologists who are history enthusiasts and academic anesthesiologists interested in respiratory physiology.
Karen B. Domino, M.D.
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology; University of Washington School of Medicine; Box 356540; Seattle, Washington 98195