In the Hands of Any Fool

Walter Gratzer

  • A Short History of Cardiology by Peter Fleming
    Rodopi, 234 pp, £53.50, April 1997, ISBN 90 420 0048 1

In 1985, not long before he died of doctors in the hospital of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Russian astronomer Josef Shklovsky took his own pulse to save the doctor the trouble. ‘Seventy-three,’ he reported. The doctor was not merely ungrateful but contemptuous, for the pulse rate, she informed her illustrious patient, is always an even number. On looking into the matter, Shklovsky discovered that she had been taught to time for half a minute and double the result. It was another astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who first used a clock to time the pulse. He found a figure of round about seventy, but believed that the true answer must be 60 – one beat per second – for he could then relate it to the movement of the celestial clockwork.

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