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The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America

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Overview

The Deadly Truth chronicles the complex interactions between disease and the peoples of America from the pre-Columbian world to the present.

Grob's ultimate lesson is stark but valuable: there can be no final victory over disease. The world in which we live undergoes constant change, which in turn creates novel risks to human health and life. We conquer particular diseases, but others always arise in their stead. In a powerful challenge to our tendency to see disease as unnatural and its virtual elimination as a real possibility, Grob asserts the undeniable biological persistence of disease.

Diseases ranging from malaria to cancer have shaped the social landscape—sometimes through brief, furious outbreaks, and at other times through gradual occurrence, control, and recurrence. Grob integrates statistical data with particular peoples and places while giving us the larger patterns of the ebb and flow of disease over centuries. Throughout, we see how much of our history, culture, and nation-building was determined—in ways we often don't realize—by the environment and the diseases it fostered.

The way in which we live has shaped, and will continue to shape, the diseases from which we get sick and die. By accepting the presence of disease and understanding the way in which it has physically interacted with people and places in past eras, Grob illuminates the extraordinarily complex forces that shape our morbidity and mortality patterns and provides a realistic appreciation of the individual, social, environmental, and biological determinants of human health.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Is it possible to eradicate disease? Grob (history of medicine, Rutgers) addresses this question while offering a history of disease in America to illustrate the ongoing relationships among society, environment, and human health. Beginning with evidence from prehistoric skeletal remains and continuing to the present day, Grob demonstrates that disease is a natural part of our existence. Many historians see the discovery of antibiotics as a turning point in modern medicine, yet Grob provides interesting evidence showing that many diseases were on a decline even before the widespread use of antibiotics. In addition, as life expectancies increase, long-term and chronic diseases become more evident. While Grob contends that the eradication of disease is probably an unrealistic goal, he argues that we can still work to delay the onset of diseases and make them more manageable. The text is loaded with statistics on mortality rates and life expectancies that have been pulled from a vast collection of resources. Since some basic knowledge of genetics and immunology is assumed, this well-researched volume is recommended for academic library and health science collections. Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An erudite, thoroughly researched account of how infectious diseases and chronic illnesses have evolved in America, from pre-Columbian times to the present. Grob (Emeritus Professor, History of Medicine/Rutgers Univ.) offers an examination of morbidity and mortality trends that is aimed at a narrower audience than was his highly readable The Mad Among Us (1994). The nature of specific diseases, the complex relationships between humans and pathogens, and the roles played by environment, population density, material comfort, and human behavior are elucidated here in a dauntingly statistics-laden text. Beginning with the introduction of infectious diseases by Europeans that decimated the Native American population, Grob moves on to the nature of the illnesses that afflicted the colonists and then those that came with the growth of cities, the migration of people, and economic development. He delineates the differences in the health of particular groups: blacks, whites, northerners, southerners, infants, coal miners, factory workers, etc. Statistics on life expectancy, morbidity, and mortality abound, although quotes from contemporary sources describing conditions do lighten the text at times. Finally, he examines the decline of infectious diseases and the rise of chronic illnesses as causes of disability and death in the 20th century. Throughout, Grob is careful to speak in probabilities, emphasizing how fragmentary our knowledge is and how much is uncertain. In words reminiscent of Alan Greenspan's "irrational exuberance," he concludes with the sobering warning that those predicting that disease can someday be completely conquered are suffering "at best a harmless and at worst a dangerousutopian illusion." A wealth of information for students of American history and the history of medicine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674008816
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerald N. Grob is the Henry E. Sigerist Professor of the History of Medicine Emeritus at Rutgers University.

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Table of Contents

1 The pre-Columbians 7
2 New diseases in the Americas 26
3 Colonies of sickness 48
4 The promise of enlightened health 70
5 Threats to urban health 96
6 Expanding America, declining health 121
7 Threats of industry 153
8 Stopping the spread of infection 180
9 The discovery of chronic illness 217
10 No final victory 243
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