FEVERED LIVES

TUBERCULOSIS IN AMERICAN CULTURE SINCE 1870

An enlightening interdisciplinary look at how genteel consumptives have evolved into medicalized tuberculosis ``cases.'' Viewing illness as both a cultural and a physical phenomenon, Ott, a historian of science and medicine at the Smithsonian, considers perceptions of, and approaches to, pulmonary tuberculosis. In the mid19th century, consumption's pallid languor conferred an air of elegant beauty on women and one of sensitive genius on men, provided they were middle class and white. As medical theories came and went, consumptives were exhorted to head for the mountains, to exercise strenuously, to remain in bed. These approaches respected the autonomy of the patient, but by the 1890s, after the discovery of the tubercle bacillus, physicians came to see intervention as a ``moral imperative,'' and Progressive Era faith in technology endorsed such approaches as deliberately (albeit dangerously) collapsing lungs and taking x-rays (even when the new machines produced blurry, useless images). About the time people appreciated that tuberculosis was contagious and scientists designated sputum and dust as disease carriers, physicians and laypeople alike blended science and prejudice to conclude that poor people, immigrants, and nonwhites offered particular sources of contagion. Socially ostracized, the patient became a ward of physicians and the state, dominated by ``laboratory tests, peculiar instruments, and . . . jargon,'' while medical science falsely congratulated itself for conquering a disease that still has a grip on certain populations and is gaining a new one among AIDS patients. Remarkably unpreachy, Ott merely notes that various trends—e.g., promoting the latest medical technologies and stigmatizing people with certain illnesses—still play out today. The text generally supplies sufficient information to keep nonspecialist readers in the picture; however, those whose conversation seldom runs to ``auscultation'' and ``phagocytic immune response'' may occasionally pine for a glossary. Ott's integrated, well-drawn picture offers food for thought to those interested in history and—one dearly hopes—medicine. (50 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1997

ISBN: 0-674-29910-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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