What's Cooking in "The way to health"

by Error on October 26, 2016 - 4:22pm

In the Osler library, there is a book titled “the way to health”, written by Thomas Tryon in the 17th century. The book in question was a reprint, however, and was only the second edition and not an original, being published in the year 1961. The book was written in English, and did not weigh very much, only around 3.5 pounds, ideal for the lower rank citizens that it targeted. The book was printed in 8o as was common for books targeting the poorer classes of society. It has clearly been used to a large extent, and many pages are stained by watermarks, suggesting that it was frequently used by its original owners. However, despite its clear signs of use, the book is in surprisingly good condition, and has obviously been cared for. At the very least, one of the owners valued it enough to have it rebound, and although the binding is not of the highest quality, it is also by no means the cheapest. All in all the book has been well preserved and cared for, and is a very good example of the sort of remedy book a lower class family would have in their household.

                The book, “The Way to Health” is a strange existence when looked at in the context of Harold j. Cook’s “Medicine”. The problem is, that according to cook, the paradigm should have shifted by the time the book was published in 1691, and should have been fully focused on the more modern view of discreet systems. Why is this? Was Cook wrong? Or is there some other explanation? The explanation lies within the context that the book would have been found in. The book does not conform to Cook’s argument, not because the argument is wrong, but because the people reading it were not part of the shifting paradigm.

                The book was published in 1691, but it was not written in 1691 as it is a second edition. This means that it could very well have been written when the paradigms were only beginning to shift, which would explain the otherwise conflicting dates. Also, it is worth noting that a paradigm shift is not a sudden thing, but a much more gradual proses,  that would allow for certain people to remain in the previous paradigm even after Cook’s “date” because it is period, not a moment. By this logic, the date of the book’s publishing is not so contradictory to Cook’s theory.

                It is also very important to realise who this book was written for. The contents of the book are not geared towards physicians nor surgeon, but towards the common people. As a book with a far less educated audience, it was not necessarily swept up by the shifting philosophies of the medical elite. The people reading this book were uneducated, and as such were far below the paradigm shift. Common people were still very much convinced by humoral theory, as it had a far deeper connection to their core beliefs, both about how the world worked and religion. This means that the audience also serves as an explanation as to why the book does not seem to conform to Cook’s theory, which is primarily focused on the changes that happened in the science of physic.


Tryon, Thomas. The Way to Health. London: H. C., 1691.

Harold J. Cook,  “Medicine,” in Katherine Park and Lorraine Daston (eds.) The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): 407-434.




I enjoyed how you asked yourself and to the readers questions about the book. For instance, the fact that that you understood that the book is the second edition to the original copy, thus, explaining the paradigm shift, shows how well you analyzed the book. I was also generally surprised that the book was meant to be read by less educated people. All in all, it was a good analysis!

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