A History of Anaesthesia through Postage Stamps.

By Alistair G. McKenzie, B.Pharm., M.B., Ch.B., F.R.C.A. Maclean Dubois, Hillend House, Hillend, Edinburgh, 2000. Pages: 146. Price: $15.00 (£ 9.50).

THEMATIC philately is, in my view, an art form rather than a science. The task of presenting a history or a retrospective on any given topic through postage stamps seems daunting to me for several reasons. First, when scrutinized, it is clear that not every—or even many—specific signal events in the history may have been noticed by those who produce postage stamps. Second, many stamps are produced by nations unknown to most of the world's population (i.e. , Comoro, Transki, Rwanda, Malagasy and Wallis and Fortuna Is), especially for philatelists, not for postage but as a source of revenue. Third, at least in the United States, a person (no matter how important or famous) must have died a minimum of 10 yr prior to being recognized via  a stamp, so recent US history cannot be reviewed by this means.

McKenzie's book deals with these problems very nicely. There are only five anesthesia practitioners recognized in all of the stamps reproduced, but most of the important people, events, and discoveries in the specialty are commemorated by the selection of stamps related—some closely, some remotely—to the person or event. (A 1938 US stamp showing President Franklin Pierce is included because W.T.G. Morton obtained an interview with him!)

As a history of anesthesia, this book serves as a terse synopsis. By recognizing these historical events through postage stamps, the potential audience is enlarged considerably. Any anesthetist who also is a stamp collector is the obvious bull's-eye of the author's intent. It is an easy read, well indexed, referenced, and annotated. The only deficiency, in any opinion, is the reproduction of the many stamps in black-and-white, thus denying the reader one of the main pleasures of philately—the wonderful colors of modern stamps.