Western Journal of Medicine | VOL. 173

A book to make you think

Publication Date Dec 1, 2000


Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture since 1870 Katherine Ott, Harvard University Press, $16.95, pp 296, ISBN 0 674 29911 6 In 1992, the New York Post ran the headline: “TB time bomb. Homeless contaminate public areas in city.” This headline encapsulated much of the city's anxiety about the resurgence of the public health threat that is tuberculosis and the cultural forces that influenced the response. The recent epidemic in New York resulted in a reassessment of the role of public health officials, greater awareness of clinicians to drug-resistant strains and nosocomial spread within homeless shelters, prisons, and hospitals, and an increased public awareness of an ancient disease that many thought had been eradicated in the West. In the late 20th century, American society, and in particular New York society, re-evaluated its relationship with tuberculosis. And many of its responses were mirrored in the past. In Fevered Lives, first published in 1996, Katherine Ott traces the cultural transformation of tuberculosis in America from 1870. She describes the changing “layers of meaning” that surrounded a diagnosis of tuberculosis and how, among the middle classes, this “most flattering of all diseases” of the 1870s was, as awareness of the social associations grew in the 1880s, transformed into a disease that was the consequence of either acquired or inherited degeneracy. She also describes how the disease mirrored “ethnic and racial fears and prejudices.” For example, many believed that very different disease ...


American Culture Racial Fears Civic Order York Society Harvard University Press Data-gathering Techniques Nosocomial Spread Homeless Shelters United States Late 20th Century

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