Hysteria: The Biography (Biographies of Disease)

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By Christopher Hamlin. While a rather new and interesting way to look at the history various diseases asthma, tuberculous are just a few of the others studied , it is a definite departure from typical history of medicine studies. It is also curious that several of the works are not being done by history of medicine specialists, but rather world and European historians like Hamlin. While a history of this stature is expected to be well written, this book is exceptionally well written and documented, with one of the major strengths of the book being the interesting and ambiguous way in which it is written.

The book has an air of ambiguity to it, leaving a lot of questions either half answered, or fully unanswered. One of the best examples of this is when trying to describe the symptoms of cholera, Hamlin shies away from proscribing specific symptoms, instead making it clear that the different outbreaks produced different symptoms. At points in the book Hamlin openly questions whether some of these outbreaks he analyzes are even cholera.

It must be made clear that I believe this author is using this ambiguity, rather than being used by it. To him, it is as much a literary device as his use of personification on cholera itself, making it clear that the main character of this story is not cholera, but Cholera. The book itself is set up into six chapters with a prologue, with each chapter dealing with a specific time period where the disease had the most effect.

The prologue deals with the origins of the disease and highlights the difficulty of trying to identify the origins of such a well-known disease. Like most diseases cholera has several different strains, many of which are identified in later chapters, and this can make it hard to identify outbreaks in the written records of previous times.

This is true of studying any disease. Cholera, however, adds a further problem that can make studying the disease in its earliest forms all but impossible, and it is a problem of language, as well as another opportunity for the author to be ambiguous. This leads to one seeing many examples in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of people recording they had a cholera, but give the symptoms of simple food poisoning or Gastroenteritis. Thus Hamlin does not try to find the true origin of the disease, simply stating that sometime in the early nineteenth century, men started to record a Cholera that was specially more deadly than others, thus the birth of his disease of study.


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  • His writing style also treats cholera not as a disease, but as a deeply misunderstood person, and wraps that up with evidence proving that cholera is happiest and still exists in the oceans of the world. As stated before the rest of the chapters each deal with a certain time period and the major outbreak that occurred during that time, highlighting the twelve major outbreaks of cholera in world history.

    Hysteria Biography by Andrew Scull

    Interwoven between the recordings of deaths and symptoms, though, is the real strength of this book. Hamlin showed how cholera itself and even the fear of the illness effected the social and political climate during the major outbreaks, something frequently absent from purely medical histories. He also looks to dispel several myths about the disease. The most important being that while it is a very deadly disease, it was not the great killer plague it is sometimes made out to be.

    In most of its forms, its difficulty of transmission meant that it was never the killer that insect-borne diseases proved to be.

    Hysteria: The Biography by Andrew Scull | | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

    It makes it clear that despite the belief in the vaccine, Cholera still surged back to life, an all-new strain for humanity to deal with. Despite the interesting writing style and large amount of information given in this book, it does have several faults. The first being the very ambiguity that I have also praised him for. One can understand the difficulties in the study of cholera, and even understand why he chose at certain points to be ambiguous because there were questions he could not answer.

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    Hysteria: The Biography

    So, the Dummies guides are a series of works. But the Loeb Classical Library is a series of editions, not of works. Home Groups Talk Zeitgeist. I Agree This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and if not signed in for advertising. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.

    Common Knowledge Series Biographies of Diseases.

    Series: Biographies of Diseases Series by cover. In each individual volume an expert historian of medicine 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. Related publisher series Biographies of Diseases. Related book awards Dingle Prize.