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Michael Bliss.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984.
336pp, cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 0-7710-1578-X.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Lois Hird.

Volume 12 Number 5
1984 September

In the foreword to Banting, Michael Bliss says it is the role of the biographer to recreate a life. He writes the biography in a detailed chronological order, and he remains objective throughout it. At the end, we know Sir Frederick Banting as a person, not just as a famous Canadian.

The reader meets Fred Banting as a child on the family farm near Alliston, Ontario, and follows him through a year of general arts at Victoria College where he received both failing and passing grades. He entered medicine. Bliss comments that after one lecture on diabetes he showed "no particular interest in diabetes." Surgery was his chosen specialty.

He served overseas in World War I and received the Military Cross for his efforts on the front line treating casualties. He then established a private practice in London, Ontario; the only time he had a residence outside of Toronto. In Toronto, he lived an unsophisticated way, preferring the friendship of army buddies to that of society circles. While in London, he lived with a sense of failure. He learned to paint. And he had an idea of legating the ducts of the pancreas to find the internal secretion, researchers believed to exist.

The story of insulin begins. The reader meets key personalities. The daily activities of -the laboratory work are described from the first summer of work. Some people may find the details of the procedures unpleasant reading. Working relationships and disputes are included, as are the reactions from the medical community and the rest of the world, and there are diabetics, who received insulin at the different stages of development.

Then, Banting's life after the discovery begins. He married and divorced and married again. He had one child, a son from his first marriage. Using long trips to get away from it all, he travelled to Europe, including Russia, first to a conference, and then he saw the countryside and formed an opinion of that country similar to that of other visitors in the 1930s. When he died, he was involved in military medicine research projects, but he wanted most to be an ordinary medical officer in World War II.

Two other biographies were written by medical practitioners in the 1940s, but without access to some material. Bliss uses these biographies in his research and Banting's personal papers, archival material, and interviews. The interviews are acknowledged by name. Footnotes are included in a comprehensive "Notes" section. Bliss accounts for gaps in information.

Woven in the biography is the attitude of the early twentieth century to medicine. There is information on medical research of the time and historical background on the National Research Council and research during World War II. Recommended for both school and public libraries.

Leslie McGrath, Toronto, ON.
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