Diabetes: The Biography

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Diabetes is a disease with a fascinating history and one that has been growing dramatically with urbanization. According to the World Health Authority, it now affects 4.6% of adults over 20, reaching 30% in the over 35s in some populations. It is one of the most serious and widespread diseases today. But the general perception of diabetes is quite different.

At the beginning of the 20th century, diabetes sufferers mostly tended to be middle-aged and overweight, and could live tolerably well with the disease for a couple of decades, but when it occasionally struck younger people, it could be fatal within a few months. The development of insulin in the early 1920s dramatically changed things for these younger patients. But that story of the success of modern medicine has tended to dominate public perception, so that diabetes is regarded as a relatively minor illness. Sadly, that is far from the case, and diabetes can produce complications affecting many different organs.

Robert Tattersall, a leading authority on diabetes, describes the story of the disease from the ancient writings of Galen and Avicenna to the recognition of sugar in the urine of diabetics in the 18th century, the identification of pancreatic diabetes in 1889, the discovery of insulin in the early 20th century, the ensuing optimism, and the subsequent despair as the complexity of this now chronic illness among its increasing number of young patients became apparent. Yet new drugs are being developed, as well as new approaches to management that give hope for the future.

Diabetes affects many of us directly or indirectly through friends and relatives. This book gives an authoritative and engaging account of the long history and changing perceptions of a disease that now dominates the concerns of health professionals in the developed world.

Diabetes: the biography is part of the Oxford series, Biographies of Diseases, edited by William and Helen Bynum. In each individual volume an expert historian or clinician tells the story of a particular disease or condition throughout history - not only in terms of growing medical understanding of its nature and cure, but also shifting social and cultural attitudes, and changes in the meaning of the name of the disease itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lively and readable." — The British Journal for the History of Science

"Tattersall's Diabetes analyzes the disease within an increasingly globalized context and through the arsenal that science has developed over the last century to combat the threat diabetes poses. [Diabetes] contributes to our understanding of the ways in which disease and its treatment are linked fundamentally to social and scientific history, and the ways in which biographies can shed new light on some very old diseases."—Chemical Heritage

"In this remarkably succinct, comparative, and engaging book, Tattersall offers a comprehensive and thorough history that reveals many of the nuances of this disease and treatments for it. An important contribution to the history of medicine, it should be read by all interested in the history of chronic illness, and the history of diabetes in particular."—Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"Highly recommended. This elegantly written small book is packed with historial facts and fascinating historical case studies. A useful acquisition for libraries, particularly those in colleges, universities, and medical schools."—Choice

Listed in Science Book News

"If you are just beginning a career in diabetes research or care, this book will provide you with the important back-story of the major advances in the field that have preceded you. If you are already well-established in the field, the book will consolidate memories and clarify facts surrounding the "urban legends" that abound in diabetes circles. And if you are simply someone who likes a good story about how the present came to be, the book will provide you with a good read about one of the most important human afflictions today and for the foreseeable future. If you place yourself in one of these groups, I strongly recommend the book to you."—American Journal of Epidemiology

"This is dark stuff, but fascinating stuff. These four biographies of diseases go far beyond questions of biology or medical practice; they talk politics, sex and class, faith, how to plan a healthy world and how to be a proper woman or a proper man. Strangest and most fascinating of all is the way you keep glimpsing whole societies reflected in the surgery, from the drinking water to the high philosophy."—Scotsman.com

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199541362
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/8/2009
  • Series: Biographies of Diseases Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Tattersall is Special Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Nottingham, and a leading authority on diabetes.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations ix

Prologue 1

1 The pissing evil: defining the disease 10

2 Unravelling the role of the pancreas 31

3 Insulin: a force of magical activity 52

4 The dark ages 79

5 Treating long-term complications 98

6 Adult-onset diabetes and tablets at last 115

7 At the laboratory bench 136

8 The pharmaceutical era 159

9 Diabetes becomes epidemic 178

Postscript 197

Glossary 201

Notes 209

Further reading 219

Index 225

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