A tonic for the tired

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
MEDICAL CARE AND HEALTH. By Alistair McIntosh Gray with Nigel Smith. Oxford University Press Pounds 6.

MEDICINE AND HEALTH THROUGH TIME. By Ian Dawson and Ian Coulson. John Murray Pounds 8.99. Teacher's Resource Book Pounds 19.99.

MEDICINE THROUGH TIME. By Bob Rees and Paul Shuter. Heinemann Pounds 8. 50.

MEDICINE THROUGH TIME: ASSESSMENT AND RESOURCES PACK. By Bob Rees and Paul Shuter. Heinemann Pounds 17.99

Chris Taylor is refreshed by three history texts which almost reach the parts that others don't

Are you sick to death of hacking your familiar way across the GCSE course, Medicine Through Time, with instruments blunt from age and over-use? These three books provide welcome and complementary refreshment.

Medical Care and Health by Alistair McIntosh Gray has a lucid text, rich in intriguing detail, which should appeal especially to more able students. It concentrates on Britain and Europe from the Black Death to the present and is organised thematically in three broad periods (pre-industrial; 1750 - 1900; 20th century). This feels a little contrived in places, but the book's clear and precise structure makes cross-referencing relatively easy.

It is particularly strong on present-day issues and contains intelligently written sections on smoking, the diseases of old age, AIDs, inequalities in health, alternative medicine and care in the community. Although I'd like a little more information about the provenance of some of the sources, able students will enjoy using it as a quarry for research.

Medicine and Health Through Time by Ian Dawson and Ian Coulson comes from the Schools History Project stable and scores highly for the quality of the imaginative activities for students. The authors never lose sight of the "big picture" and the reader is shown how to marshal information in order to produce extended pieces of writing.

The book is organised chronologically, each chapter encouraging students to pose some initial hypotheses which are then tested in the sections which follow. The substantial concluding chapter will help develop a retrospective overview by means of well-explained and progressively more challenging activities.

The design will be familiar to those using Discovering the Past - another series produced by John Murray - at key stage 3, but it has a simpler, less hectic feel than some of the volumes in that series. The accompanying teacher's resource book provides useful back-up, particularly in the form of scaffolding for extended writing tasks and black and white versions of sources for annotation. Highly recommended to help you capture and retain the interest of GCSE students across a wide ability range.

Bob Rees's and Paul Shuter's Medicine Through Time is similar in organisation and subject matter. The book even has the same picture of pre-chloroform surgery on its cover, although one publisher (John Murray, I suspect) has printed it the wrong way round. The text is clear and straightforward. Background information has been written with admirable economy and the detailed passages stimulate - and never patronise.

Apart from the (to me) annoying habit of printing occasional pages on purple-tinted paper, the quality of the design is very high, with pictorial sources of all kinds clearly presented.

Most chapters conclude with a review exercise, which includes completing a chart to summarise the information each contains. This is a good idea, and I endorse the authors' advice, given in the consistently useful assessment and resource pack, that you should enlarge the charts to A3. Strong on explanation and analysis for most GCSE students.

All three books claim to cover the requirements of the new GCSE history syllabuses and, to a considerable extent, they succeed. If you're seeking enlightenment and inspiration for tackling representations and interpretations of history, however, you will have to look elsewhere.

Sadly, few of the questions and activities in these books will help students or teachers to develop their proficiency with our new friend, Assessment Objective 3(a), although the raw material is there.

These books differ in style and content but need not be seen as alternatives. It's always a good plan to escape the benign tyranny of a single textbook and I'd be inclined to buy as many of all three as I could afford for my students, and take what each has to offer.

Chris Taylor is county adviser for humanities, Devon

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