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Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 19, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0375503153 ISBN-10: 0375503153 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During a 39-day period in the spring of 1865, 45,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded. The wounded received the best care available at the time—care that by current standards is horrifying. In this fast-moving and informative book, Rutkow (Surgery: An Illustrated History) recreates the experience of the common Civil War soldier: it "was more sharply defined by agony, butchery, and loneliness than anything else." Simple gunshot wounds necessitated amputation; lack of antiseptics meant more soldiers died from postoperative infection than from their wounds. Communicable diseases ravaged the armies on both sides of the conflict. Rutkow charts the progress of the military medical system during the course of the war, focusing on the struggles (against political opposition) of Sanitary Commission director Frederick Law Olmsted to establish a humane and scientific system of care for the fallen. As Rutkow shows, such medical developments as the construction of hospitals and the specialization of surgery aided in the "professionalization of American medicine." With plenty of historical context, Rutkow's book should appeal beyond hardcore Civil War aficionados to a larger readership interested in a gritty, compelling story well told. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
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Review

“Ira Rutkow takes his place as our leading authority on Civil War Medicine. Utilizing his historian’s gift of a perspective that is panoramic even while it is detailed, he has given us a gripping narrative that flows with the rhythms of the best of well-told stories. This is a book that will enrich the scholar and fascinate the general reader. As for the Civil War buff — Bleeding Blue and Gray is not only essential, but unforgettable.” -Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375503153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503153
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ira Rutkow is a general surgeon and medical historian. After graduating from Union College (NY), he earned his medical degree from St. Louis University. While completing training as a general surgeon, Rutkow also received a master and doctorate in public health from the Johns Hopkins University.

He is the author of seven books, most recently Seeking the Cure: A History of Medicine in America (Scribner, 2010). Rutkow's other works include James A. Garfield (2006), part of Times Books' American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr; Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine (2005); American Surgery: An Illustrated History (1998); Surgery: An Illustrated History (1993), named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and the two volume The History of Surgery in the United States (1992 and 1988). In addition to his historical writings, he has edited numerous medical textbooks, including Socioeconomics of Surgery (1989), and authored journal articles and book chapters on various surgical techniques.

Rutkow is a recipient of the 1994 American Medical Writers Association "Medical Book Award," and the 2005 Fletcher Pratt Literary Award of the Civil War Round Table of New York, Rutkow has been inducted into The Johns Hopkins University's "Society of Scholars," and awarded Union College's Founders' Medal. He is listed in Marquis Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare.

He and his wife divide their time between New York City and their farm in the Hudson Valley.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mary Mercedes on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Informative. A pleasure to read. Rutkow is a genius though. His beautiful book, SURGERY, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, is still his masterpiece and will always be a prize on my bookshelf. Other reviewers have already gone into great detail on the contents of this volume, so I will just say that if you are interested in some little-known facts, stats, and extreme in-depth coverage of medicine during the Civil War, this is the best place to start. You WILL find plenty here that is new and fascinating.
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Format: Hardcover
This book delivers a well written account of the politics and practices that led to revolutionary changes in American medicine during the Civil War.

Author Ira Rutkow is adept at exploring how medical realities taken for granted today, such as knowledge of bacteriology, a well defined concept of nursing, and a unified medical profession were all "rough drafts" of what exists today, if they existed at all.

One reads with shock how most "nurses" were wounded soldiers who cared for other wounded soldiers. In the era fifty years before women obtained sufferage in America, the nursing profession was rife with sexual harassment, incompetent leadership and riddled with more moral than medical concerns--that is, when women were included at all. It was fascinating to read that women nurses were valued more for their appearance (the ideal nurse was expected to be over 30 and "homely"--at least there was no ageism!) than any objective standards.

If nursing was abysmal, doctoring was worse. The author describes how gangrene was "cured" with undiluted hydrochloric acid, most injuries were treated with botched amputations, and everything else was "cured" with poisonous drugs like the mercury containing Calomel or tarter emetic that created "volcanic vomiting" and diarrhea, as per the allopathic concept of curing through purging and bleeding.

If that wasn't enough, different aid groups like the Sanitation Commission and the Christian Comission sabotaged each others' efforts in campaigns of backstabbing and malcontentery. These cynical machinations reached the highest echelons of U.S. government and advanced the careers of ambitious, unworthy men, while brushing visionary women and men to the wayside.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Roslyn R. Romanowski on February 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent look at a broad spectrum of Civil War medical issues. The author touches on the medical training of doctors in the 19th century, and even discusses the role of nurses in patient care at the time. Much of the information in the book was new to me, rather than a rehashing of common information, As a physician, I marvelled at how little the medical personnel of the time had to work with. The administrative structure of the Medical Corps is covered in almost too much detail, but this information is made more palatable by vivid portraits of some of the leading figures. I wanted this book to be longer-- I hope that Dr. Rutkown returns to writing soon!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jacqueline Johnson on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent! What a research project that Dr. Rutkow undertook with this book and then gave it back to us in an interesting, informative read! Thought I might get bored with all the history details and names, but I did not. Funny how much of the major movements in healthcare came with our experiences with war. Thought Vietnam was primarily the determinate change, but the Doc shows us how medicine evolved during the Civil War, but stayed stagnant at the same time. Read the book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Klag on February 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Bleeding Blue and Gray is a great book. I read it several years ago and found it one of the most engaging and informative books on the history of medicine I have ever encountered. The author weaves so many different themes into the story that it leaves the reader wanting more. He writes it from someone a background in surgery but it is accessible to everyone.

I am writing this review now because I just went on Amazon to buy another copy as a gift and was amazed at how expensive it is. Presumably it is out of print. This is a book that should be available to everyone who cares about the history of the American civil war, the history of medicine, and the history and mission of the Army surgeon general, etc, etc. If it is not feasible to do another printing, surely an e-book is warranted.

In fact, writing this review has prompted me to resolve to read it again!
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Frank R. Freemon on January 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I wrote a similar work, Gangrene and Glory, so I should know a good Civil War medicine book when I see it. This book taught me a lot about a subject I thought I knew. It is very well written. There is more Bleeding Blue than Bleeding Gray, but this is a small distraction from a terrific book. I still prefer my book, but only slightly (I cannot help but think I may be biased). Frank Freemon
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Format: Hardcover
Ther might be a tendency when reading alot of books on the Civil War to concentrate on military personalities,grand stategy,tactics,and blame,blame and more blame that even years of court martials could never hope to sort out.(Or even make it more unsortable?). This book adds a different perspective to the war, that is :the suffering of the common soldier.
The major focus of the book seemed to be the evolution of an efficient ambulance service to remove the sick and wounded and get them to field hospitals and later transferred to larger institutions if necessary. During this time period there was still not a "germ theory" on the cause of disease and microbiology was still a decade or two off from acceptance. The Civil War saw little advancement in regard to bacteria as the cause of disease and such ancient practices as bleeding and mercury treatments were still regarded as standard practice.
The book has some interesting stories related to the Army Medical Museums' current collection of "macabre" exhibits and the history of the "donors".A person would think that with all of the horrible battlefield casualties and diseases, that the persons of authority would come together for the benefit of the soldier.This however was not the case and the book spends alot of time on the political wranglings of civilian and military care providers.Lots and lots of time and apparently the Generals aren't the only ones doing the infighting.
Interesting enough there is little to nothing about the Confederate forces health care for wounded and diseased. This lack of info left me to speculate that it must have been even worse than the Union care for casualties. Often the Confederates would deliberately abandon their wounded and sick because they would receive better care from their enemies.
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