THE DREAD DISEASE: Cancer and the Modern American Culture by James T. Patterson

THE DREAD DISEASE: Cancer and the Modern American Culture

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A cultural history of cancer in the US, from the late 1800's to the present, that nicely illustrates our evolving attitudes toward illness, medicine, and public health policy. Patterson begins with Ulysses S. Grant's death from cancer in 1885--at a time when the disease was invariably fatal and thus feared--but not hysterically. By 1915, many of the deadly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis were coming under control, and Patterson goes on to note that as life expectancy increased, chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer became more feared. He describes the origins of the first ""alliance against cancer"": physicians, researchers, epidemiologists and journalists who, though unable to provide solid help, offered what he calls ""the power of positive thinking"": pushing--as they continue to do today--early detection, surgery, and scientific research. Running counterpoint to this optimistic view has historically been the group that Patterson identifies as ""skeptical about orthodox medical notions of disease and about the claims to expert knowledge by what they came to call the Cancer Establishment."" Patterson is right: the story of how these two groups have interacted ever since illustrates durable social and cultural divisions in modern America, Other highlights as he tells the story: changes in attitudes towards smoking; the role of religion; and how AIDS may change the way we view cancer. Patterson tackled a huge subject, and has worked his materials into a riveting account. A most worthwhile read.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press