From Publishers Weekly
Mitman and his son Keefe are members of the "tribe" of allergy medication users whose expenditures fuel a $5-billion industry. Studying both the history and business of allergies, Mitman-a historian of science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison-traces hay fever from its first (erroneous) identification as an ailment of the wealthy in the 19th century up to the modern, booming antihistamine market. Since seasonal allergies were first identified, misconceptions have shaped their treatment. Early sufferers escaped to hay fever resorts in areas where their sinuses mysteriously cleared. Believing that the communion with nature had led to the reprieve, many escaped to country homesteads landscaped with the very plants whose pollen causes hay fever. As Mitman demonstrates, the story of hay fever is also the story of the development of nature tourism, urban planning and the postwar pharmaceutical boom. As Mitman demonstrates, Americans seeking relief have changed where they live, what they build their homes with, what they buy, what activities they participate in and even the chemistry of their own bodies-but still all you hear every spring is sneezes. In clear and detailed prose, Mitman offers a wide-ranging history of this ongoing struggle that's as much about 20th century American consumerism as it is about allergies. Illustrations.
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Mitman directs steely, twenth-twenty insight at popular misapprehensions, past and present, of the causes and cures of allergies, hay fever and asthma, in particular. He notes that in the latter nineteenth century, Americans considered hay fever a curse exclusive to white, upper-class males. They knew this because these "hay feverites" were the only persons who took lengthy, annual "hay fever holidays" at tony resorts in the White Mountains and on Mackinac Island. It was later recognized that allergies afflict poor, nonwhite populations with equal and sometimes greater ferocity. When asthma sufferers sought the healthy clime of Tucson, they imported Bermuda grass, evergreens, and sumac trees, to say nothing of industrial pollution and traffic congestion. Not surprisingly, allergy symptoms reprised. Chemical warfare brought its own problems when hay fever proliferated despite widespread, government-mandated herbicidal assaults on ragweed, and chemicals used to deliver breath-saving drugs were proven to be damaging to the ecology. Full of the wisdom of lessons learned as well as of noted authorities, Mitman's thoughtful presentation is nothing to sneeze at. Chavez, Donna
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