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A Darker Ribbon: Breast Cancer, Women, and Their Doctors in the Twentieth Century Hardcover – October 25, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1st edition (October 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807065129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807065129
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,771,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Breast cancer strikes 182,000 American women annually, but public awareness of this disease is a recent phenomenon. Here, Leopold, a sociologist and a breast cancer survivor, examines the cultural history of this disease. She looks at the social attitudes, treatments, and doctor-patient relationships, while tracing the evolution of the disease from a private to a public entity. Unpublished correspondence between doctors and patients from different eras illustrate the changes in their relationships: Barbara Mueller accepted the decisions of Dr. William Halstead, who developed the radical mastectomy, without question. Rachel Carson actively participated in her care and consulted Dr. George Crile Jr., an eminent surgeon who uses a less radical procedure. Although many books on breast cancer have been published recently, most have been clinical like Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book (2d. ed., Addison Wesley, 1995) or personal accounts such as Joyce Wadler's My Breast: One Woman's Cancer Story (LJ 9/1/92). Marilyn Yalom's A History of the Breast (LJ 2/15/97) is a more general work. Leopold is the first to examine the social and cultural aspects of the disease. Recommended for academic libraries, women's studies, health sciences, and medical history collections.ABarbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., CA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A cultural history of breast cancer that focuses primarily on how social acceptance of the unequal roles of men and women has impeded progress in a woman's disease. Leopold, a writer on women's health issues for the Chicago Tribune, the Nation, and Self magazine and herself a breast cancer survivor, examines the social dynamics that have shaped contemporary attitudes toward breast cancer. She looks closely at the interaction between male physician and female patient as a key aspect of that dynamic. Besides giving the larger picture, Leopold includes an intimate closeup through revealing correspondence between two articulate women and their doctors. The first set, spanning the period 191722, is between a compliant woman, Barbara Mueller, and the famous surgeon William Steward Halsted, who developed the radical mastectomy procedure that was the standard treatment for breast cancer for most of this century; the second set, 196064, is between Rachel Carson, who had undergone the Halsted procedure, and George Crile, a trusted friend and surgeon from whom the noted scientist and writer sought advice when her own surgeon lied to her about her disease. Leopold notes that real changes in social attitudes toward the disease and in the biomedical approach to it were slow in coming. Nevertheless, the taboos against public disclosure were gradually lifted, notably in women's magazines. The rise in breast cancer consciousness developed for the most part, she finds, outside the feminist movement, with women volunteers drafted by the male-dominated American Society for the Control of Cancer (later the American Cancer Society) to spread its message about the benefits of early detection. Attention is also given to the impact of the National Cancer Act of 1971, First Lady Betty Ford's breast cancer in 1974, and the subsequent appearance of the first nationally known breast cancer advocate, Washington Post writer Rose Kushner. Now that women are involved, Leopold seems to be saying, things are looking up. A feminist approach to history for which the most appreciative audience will be found in women's study courses. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Heidi H Crissey on December 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I am a third generation breast cancer survivor. I am also a surgeon's daughter. Ellen Leopold nailed what women have been subjected to in the 150 past years in relation to breast cancer. However, as amply pointed out by her, we have only taken a small step forward. While I loved this book, I found myself angered once again by the male dominated medical society and by, even today, women's capitultion to paternalism. This is a must read for every woman, young or old and regardless of health status.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lily L. Saint on April 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ellen Leopold's book clearly and intelligently examines the problems women historically faced given the constraints of inadequate doctor-patient relationships and treatments. Ms. Leopold is also obviously, a wonderful writer and I look forward to hearing more from her evidently enormous body of knowledge.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The best and most original parts of this book are the parts about the Halsted-Mueller letters and the letters of Rachel Carson. Other sections, particularly near the end of the book, are vague and repeat ideas written by many other writers on the subject, including Sontag, Yalom, etc. The author's take on breast cancer today is very weak, and does not explore, or even mention, our culture's ever-increasing interest in the cancer/genetics relationship. All in all, the book is not worthless, but it's still disappointing.
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