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BERT, Paul (1833-1886)

La pression barométrique. Recherches de physiologie expérimentale.
Paris, G. Masson, 1878.

First edition of a great work in the history of altitude physiology, in which Bert proved that the principal symptoms of altitude sickness arise from reducted partial pressure of oxygen and not from diminution of total pressure. Bert introduced oxygen apparatus to avert the dangerous consequences of ascent to high altitudes, and was the first to study the conditions of high-altitudes ascents in a pressure chamber. He also explained the aetiology and mechanism of caisson disease.” – One of Bert’s examiners for the licentiat was Claude Bernard who was so impressed with Bert’s abilities that he invited him to become his laboratory assistant. In 1868 Bert was the successor of Claude Bernard’s chair at the Sorbonne, Bernard having resigned to leave it vacant for him. It was in Paris that he carried out the fundamental studies on the effects of different partial pressures of oxygen upon the respiration of animals which laid the foundations for aviation medicine. ”It is tragic that the chaos of a far-flung war was required to bring Bert’s work into its full meaning and perspective . . . Paul Bert began to work actively on respiratory problems early in the seventies, and in 1878 he published La pression barometrique, a book which stands at the very cornerstone of modern altitude physiology . . . The first 522 pages deal with the history of altitude physiology up to that date; and if Paul Bert did nothing else, we should be lastingly in his debt for this masterly historical presentation – a model, be it said, for any student wishing to write in the field of medical history. The second part, occupying 518 pages, contains experimental protocols; the third and final part, which runs to 118 pages, contains his resumé and conclusions, and is again a model of concise, orderly and logical scientific presentation” (Fulton). In March 1874, Crocé-Spinelli and Sivel, who had served as subjects in Bert’s experiments, accompanied by a physician, ascended to 23,000 feet in a balloon and came down safely. On April 15th Crocé-Spinelli and Sivel, accompanied this time by Gaston Tissandier, decided to make a second ascent to a greater height. Since Bert was away from Paris, Crocé-Spinelli wrote to tell him of their plans. Bert realized immediately what would happen and wrote to warn them, but his letter arrived too late. On April 15th the men ascended to 26,300 feet. All lost consciousness, and Tissandier alone survived the catastrophe.

Collation: Pp. (2) blank, (6), viii, 1168. With 89 figures in the text.

Binding: Publisher’s wine-red blind decorated cloth with gilt lettering on spine.

Provenance: Stamped "P. J. Wising".

References: Garrison-Morton 944; Fulton, Selected Readings in thre History of Physiology, p. 141-142 and pl. 25; Grolier, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, No. 77; Norman 218; Bibliothèque Nationale, En francais dans le texte, No. 305; Fulton, Aviation Medicine (1948), pp 35-40.

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