Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow

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The product of six years of collaborative research, this fine biography offers new interpretations of a pioneering figure in anesthesiology, epidemiology, medical cartography, and public health. It modifies the conventional rags to riches portrait of John Snow by synthesizing fresh information about his early life from archival research and recent studies. It explores the intellectual roots of his commitments to vegetarianism, temperance, and pure drinking water, first developed when he was a medical apprentice and assistant in the north of England. The authors argue that all of Snow's later contributions are traceable to the medical paradigm he imbibed as a medical student in London and put into practice early in his career as a clinician: that medicine as a science required the incorporation of recent developments in its collateral sciences—chiefly anatomy, chemistry, and physiology—in order to understand the causes of disease. Snow's theoretical breakthroughs in anesthesia were extensions of his experimental research in respiratory physiology and the properties of inhaled gases. Shortly thereafter, his understanding of gas laws led him to reject miasmatic explanations for the spread of cholera, and to develop an alternative theory in consonance with what was then known about chemistry and the physiology of digestion. Using all of Snow's writings, the authors follow him when working in his home laboratory, visiting patients throughout London, attending medical society meetings, and conducting studies during the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854. The result is a book that demythologizes some overly heroic views of Snow by providing a fairer measure of his actual contributions. It will have an impact not only on the understanding of the man but also on the history of epidemiology and medical science.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a welcome addition in historical literature. It offers the most thorough, detailed, and careful account of Snow's multifaceted career. The narrative is highly informative, and the text contains numerous illustrations and labels intended to amplify the authors' arguments. ...this is an important work. Members of the health professions and historians will certainly benefit by reading this book." —International Epdemiological Association

"One of the many strength of this book is its careful chronological construction that illuminates the logical progression of Snow's work. This book provides a beautifully graphic analysis of how Snow substantiated his theory through the shoe-leather inquiries he personally made into the water supply of 658 of 860 cholera victims in the 1854 outbreak. This exemplary interdisciplinary biography of one of the greatest doctors is long overdue, but well worth the wait. It replaces the caricature of the socially inept loner with an authoritative portrayal of Snow as a consciencious and confident medical scientist and practitioner." —The Lancet, Vol. 362, September 6, 2003

"A fascinating look at an iconic figure in the history of two very different fields, epidemiology and anaesthesiology. This ingeniously argued and carefully researched study makes a powerful case for Snow as an original thinker committed not only to medicine as an enterprise linking the clinic and the laboratory, but to the idea that it was necessarily integrative and multidisciplinary — from the molecular to the societal. It is a vision that remains illuminating— cutting edge—a century and a half after Snow's influential work. The authors have made an important contribution not only to the history of biomedicine but to English societal history as well."—Charles E. Rosenberg, Ernst Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

"The tale of how John Snow removed the handle from the Broad Street pump has made him the central iconic figure for the history of public health. In this meticulously documented collaborative book, the authors use extensive archival research to revise the previous mythology surrounding Snow's life and work to reveal a far more complex and nuanced historical figure than has previously been recognized."—Joel D. Howell, MD, PhD, Victory Vaughn Professor of the History of Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, History, and Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan

"This is an outstanding biography. The authors have demonstrated how it is possible to reconstruct a nuanced account of someone who left few private papers behind. They also triumphantly show that John Snow was one of the most creative individuals within Victorian medicine. Snow is no longer a prophet without honour."—W.F. Bynum, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195135442
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/2003
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

all at Michigan State University

Enfield District Hospitals

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Table of Contents

1. York and Newcastle, 1813-33
2. Senior Apprentice and Assistant, 1830-1836
3. London Medical and Surgical Training, 1836-38
4. Forging a London Career, 1838-1846
5. Ether
6. Chloroform
7. Cholera Theories: Controversy and Confusion
8. Snow's Cholera Theory
9. Professional Success
10. Cholera and Metropolitan Water Supply
11. Broad Street
12. Snow and the Mapping of Cholera Epidemies
13. Snow and the Sanitarians
14. Further Developments in Anesthesia
15. Common Ground: Continuous Molecular Changes
16. Snow's Multiple Legacies

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