Goldberger's War: The Life and Work of a Public Health Crusader

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Goldberger's War chronicles one of the U.S. Public Health Service's most renowned heroes—an immigrant Jew who trained as a doctor at Bellevue, became a young recruit to the federal government's health service, and ended an American plague. He did so by defying conventional wisdom, experimenting on humans, and telling the South precisely what it didn't want to hear.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book provides a remarkable snapshot of the application of epidemiologic principles to the enhancement public health in the United States in the first third of the 1900s. The author's linkage of the personal life of a "public health crusader" with his scientific discoveries make it a fascinating as well as instructive document." —-American Journal of Epidemiology

"Engrossing story of an American medical hero." —-The New England Journal of Medicine

"Inspiring, brilliantly researched and engagingly written. Anyone interested in public health, the politics of medicine, or the impact of Jewish immigrants on American life will savor this book." —-Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

"Alan M. Kraut's fine tribute to him does equal justice in describing the early public health movement in this country, and the Southern political, cultural and economic climate that required change." —-Jewish Book World

Publishers Weekly
The title in this fascinating history refers not to any military battle, but to a doctor's successful fight against the disease known as pellagra. Until Joseph Goldberger proved otherwise in the early 20th century, the illness, a scourge of the South, was believed to be an infectious disease. Goldberger's diligent research and tireless campaigning demonstrated that it was, in fact, due to dietary deficiencies. (Later researchers showed that pellagra resulted from a lack of niacin.) Using both primary and secondary documents, Kraut, a professor of history at American University, traces Goldberger's life from his late-19th-century childhood on the Lower East Side of New York City to his rise through the U.S. Public Health Service. This story follows an immigrant's rise in America, but in Kraut's hands, it is more than just a biography; it is also a history of science. Kraut shows how Goldberger worked to push for the eradication of the disease-even using radical methods, such as injecting forms of the disease into himself, his wife and other subjects. Kraut also subtly demonstrates how such factors as religion, class and regionalism played themselves out in Goldberger's life. The son of Orthodox Jews, Goldberger married the grandniece of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, but not before both families struggled with the intermarriage. And as Kraut shows in this engaging and multilayered American history, much of the fight against Goldberger's findings came from Southerners who were concerned that his work would reinforce the region's image as backward. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Kraut (history, American Univ.), the author of Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the Immigrant Menace, here explores the life and work of a Jewish immigrant doctor working at the U.S. Public Health Service. Between 1902 and 1914, Dr. Joseph Goldberger studied such germ-borne diseases as yellow fever, typhoid, dengue fever, and typhus in places ranging from Mexico and Texas to Washington, DC. In 1914, Surgeon General Rupert Blue assigned him to lead the investigation of pellagra, "the scourge of the South," which was common among the poor of the region. Using elegant research studies, including experimentation on himself, his staff, and his wife, Goldberger demonstrated that a dietary deficiency of niacin-vitamin B-and not a germ caused the disease. Kraut also examines Goldberger's battles to convince Southern politicians, businessmen, and landowners that poverty, diet, and disease could be related, an effort that continued for many years after his death in 1929. In this age of AIDS and SARS, the pellagra tale offers many useful lessons on disease causation and its discovery and the interplay of medical, political, economic, and social forces. Kraut's excellent scholarly work is recommended for all academic and large public libraries.-A.J. Wright, Anesthesiology Lib., Univ of Alabama at Birmingham Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Full-fledged profile of the physician whose investigation into the cause of pellagra outraged many southerners by concluding that it was a lifestyle disease brought about by poverty and poor diet. Kraut (History/American Univ.), who took a broad view of public health in Silent Travelers (1994), narrows his focus here to the life and work of a single doctor. Beginning with the Goldberger family's immigration to the US in 1883, when Joseph was nine, the author describes his subject's youth, education, entry into the US Marine Hospital Service (later the US Public Health Service), and courtship of a southern belle. During much of their marriage, Goldberger's assignments kept the couple apart, and Kraut quotes extensively from their almost daily correspondence to create an informed portrait of the man. Early postings were to Mexico, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to investigate outbreaks of yellow fever, typhus, typhoid, and dengue fever, among others. In 1914, Goldberger took over pellagra studies in the South. Gathering information first from library research and then from field studies, he began experiments at two orphanages and an insane asylum that demonstrated pellagra sufferers could be cured by proper diet. With the help of Mississippi's governor, who offered pardons to prisoners who volunteered, he set up a controversial experiment showing that poor diet could induce pellagra in healthy men. To dissuade those who insisted that pellagra was an infectious disease, he and other volunteers held "filth parties" at which they exposed themselves to the blood, urine, and feces of pellagra patients. In 1916, he launched a long-term epidemiological study of southern cotton-milltowns that directly linked pellagra to poverty and deprivation. Goldberger turned next to the search for the specific nutrient that prevented the disease. His death in 1928 came nine years before the answer, niacin, was found, but his status as crusader against pellagra had been secured by years of dogged fieldwork. Primarily for medical history buffs. (15 pp. b&w illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809016372
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,081,298
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan M. Kraut is a professor of history at American University. His most recent book, Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the Immigrant Menace, won the Theodore Salutous Memorial Book Award. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 "Another Poor Jew" 13
2 Medical Mysteries 43
3 Disease and Duty 73
4 Scourge of the South 97
5 Pellagra, Prisoners, and Pardons 121
6 "Filth Parties" and Mill Meals: Medical Sleuthing in Lab and Village 143
7 Cotton in Crisis and the Politics of Public Health 183
8 "Nailing Pellagra's Old Hide to the Barn Door" 201
9 Kaddish for a Hero 233
Epilogue 257
Notes 263
A Note on Sources 299
Index 303
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