The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man and Society
The authors examine the social aspects of the TB epidemic, along with some of the biological factors. They show how TB was romanticized, how it was portrayed as a demon coming to rob the healthy of life, and how it sparked scientific invention - in particular the stethoscope.
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This reflective, informative, and analytically significant book on the history, methods, diagnosis and treatments of tuberculosis is at once a reminder of the dismal past and a revolutionary argument for the limits of medical therapy with respect to one of history's most widespread killers. As one of the four horseman of the apocalypse that so fascinated bible readers and as one Malthus great check's on the tendency of the human population to grow exponentially, the study of diseases with a plague-like quality is as instructive as it is timely. Long gone are the sanitariums but the current widespread situation of resistant strains of bacteria (such as TB) are a recurrent reminder that humans live with a world created by microorganisms, for microorganisms and not the world we imagine that we can control. Jean and René Dubos have written an excellent introduction to the folly of humanity's search for cures in a world of enduring microbes. They follow a detectives trail from one diagnostic advance to another, until the germ theory of disease trumps the hereditary theory pathology. Filled with overlooked doctors, diligent research pathologists, literary notables, and tragic patients the book must be read over and again to grasp the enormity of death in the past, the cultural influences of an unconquerable disease syndrome, and the eventual understanding of the human will to therapeutically eradicate tuberculosis.
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