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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Michael A. Flannery, MA, MLS (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
Description: This book describes doctors in the South from three broad perspectives: the education they received; the care they administered at the bedside; and the role they played within the communities they served. These are each discussed in eight chapters with appropriately titled subheadings.
Purpose: The purpose is to provide an up close and intimate portrait of everyday medical practice in the 19th-century American South with a particular emphasis upon the antebellum period. This is a very worthwhile endeavor as it seeks to go beyond the official rhetoric of the period, as witnessed in the journal literature and published texts, to describe what real practice was like as seen in primary casebook and diary accounts. In so doing, the author renders a picture of Southern medicine far more human and nuanced with an emphasis more on community and social relations rather than on science. Here the book succeeds marvelously as the reader meets numerous country physicians at the bedside and in the small villages and towns they served. The author shows how they were both dependent upon and contributors to complex and intimate social bonds that both supported and defined their practice.
Audience: This book is written for a scholarly audience: historians of medicine, historians of the South, students of 19th century social history, etc. The author's earlier works include Intimacy and Power in the Old South (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987) and A Southern Practice: The Diary and Autobiography of Charles A. Hentz, MD (University Press of Virginia, 2000), which he edited. Both books were well received by the scholarly community.
Features: The author's detailed analysis of Southern medicine during the 19th century takes the reader from the classrooms in which they studied into the towns they served largely through the extant narratives these practitioners left behind. What emerges is a picture of Southern medicine, which with the exception of the principal distinction of slavery, was essentially similar to country medicine everywhere in the expanding American landscape, North and South. How physicians interacted with their communities through shared experience, region, and faith forms the main story told here. That said, the book would have been enhanced with some well chosen illustrations. Without anything to reference pictorially the reader is left to plod through a tightly written narrative formatted in small font and long chapters with little relief.
Assessment: This is an excellent work that deserves to be on the shelves of academic libraries everywhere. Because medical historians have rarely provided such a meticulous description of medical practice among the thousands of physicians who labored so long and hard in service to their neighbors, this book provides a glimpse of doctoring not available elsewhere. This is not a tome devoted to the medical elite, but rather a history of many nameless physicians who gave yeoman service to their profession. The author writes of his subjects with eloquence, sympathy, and compassion.