Every dark era has its moment when the lights go out, whether it is swift like Kristallnacht and Stalin’s purges, or prolonged like the moldering of the Roman Empire. There are also moments when religion casts a dark shadow, such as 1616, when the Inquisition condemned Galileo for stating that the Earth revolves around the sun; or 1925, when John Scopes was pronounced guilty of teaching evolution. We may not live in quite such dark times, but it’s distinctly crepuscular when the NIH, the premiere medical research institution in the United States, spends many dollars studying the therapeutic efficacy of prayer. In Galileo’s Gout, Gerald Weissmann, a research professor at the New York University School of Medicine, bemoans the onrushing darkness and then sets to chronicling individual explosions of light. Among the luminaries are Lewis Thomas, Denis Diderot, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, John Jones (the judge who in 2005 ruled against teaching intelligent design), and numerous clinicians. Throughout, Weissmann weaves evidence of political regression with details of memorable scientific discoveries, as well as occasional medical case histories of relevant literati. It is a bit of a meditative melange, yet it also serves as a compact guide to the highlights of American medical innovations. Much of the book is crammed with anecdotes about how various Nobelists made their life-saving discoveries, as if to contrast the huge 20th-century medical revolution with conservative laments about “abuses of medical research.” Weissmann bristles at the hostility of the current political climate and the outrage of a learned man who has been lectured to by ignoramuses informs this book. “The twenty-first century seems preoccupied with reversing each and every one of the accomplishments of the eighteenth,” he observes, and foremost among them is the Age of Enlightenment’s elevation of science at the expense of obscurantist religion. On the subject of faith-based alternative medicine, we are, once more, undeniably in the realm of shadows. Weissmann provides a few laughs with a satirical proposal to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine by a researcher named Moses with a control group wandering in the desert for 40 years. But the folly of an alternative medicine center—with a budget of more than $123 million in 2005—investigating prayer is no joke. Perhaps the most appealing of Weissmann’s heroes is pediatrician and poet William Carlos Williams, whose pragmatic humanism he especially admires. Weissmann also calls out Percy Lavon Julian, a chemist who synthesized cortisone from soybeans (thus vastly reducing its price) and who, in 1950, became the first African-American to buy a home in the exclusive Chicago suburb of Oak Park. Julian became the target of a cross-burning, and Weissmann seems to suggest that the hatred and bigotry Julian endured is emblematic of the larger struggle between reason and its enemies. Overall, Weissmann supports the conscientiousness and decency of the average doctor as solutions to many problems, particularly a health-care system fragmented into HMOs, PPOs, and so on. But as for the larger concerns presented by the intelligent-design movement, it is clear from Weissmann’s book that a larger political solution is necessary to steer the conversation back to science.