The Life and Times of a Public Health Crusader
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Full-fledged profile of the physician whose investigation into the cause of pellagra outraged many southerners by concluding that it was a lifestyle disease brought about by poverty and poor diet.

Kraut (History/American Univ.), who took a broad view of public health in Silent Travelers (1994), narrows his focus here to the life and work of a single doctor. Beginning with the Goldberger family’s immigration to the US in 1883, when Joseph was nine, the author describes his subject’s youth, education, entry into the US Marine Hospital Service (later the US Public Health Service), and courtship of a southern belle. During much of their marriage, Goldberger’s assignments kept the couple apart, and Kraut quotes extensively from their almost daily correspondence to create an informed portrait of the man. Early postings were to Mexico, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to investigate outbreaks of yellow fever, typhus, typhoid, and dengue fever, among others. In 1914, Goldberger took over pellagra studies in the South. Gathering information first from library research and then from field studies, he began experiments at two orphanages and an insane asylum that demonstrated pellagra sufferers could be cured by proper diet. With the help of Mississippi’s governor, who offered pardons to prisoners who volunteered, he set up a controversial experiment showing that poor diet could induce pellagra in healthy men. To dissuade those who insisted that pellagra was an infectious disease, he and other volunteers held “filth parties” at which they exposed themselves to the blood, urine, and feces of pellagra patients. In 1916, he launched a long-term epidemiological study of southern cotton-mill towns that directly linked pellagra to poverty and deprivation. Goldberger turned next to the search for the specific nutrient that prevented the disease. His death in 1928 came nine years before the answer, niacin, was found, but his status as crusader against pellagra had been secured by years of dogged fieldwork.

Primarily for medical history buffs. (15 pp. b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-374-13537-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003


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