From Publishers Weekly
There were the dark days of frequent unwanted pregnancies, quack remedies and backstreet abortions; then there was the Pill. Or so we often believe about the history of birth control in America. But the subject, as Tone, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, shows, is much more complex. Indeed, our Victorian forebears were familiar with several contraceptive choices, from condoms to pessaries and douches, which were readily available from small shops or by mail order until the Comstock Act deemed them obscene in 1873. But the new law succeeded only in driving the contraceptive business underground, as regulations were inconsistently enforced. By the 1920s, birth control began to be seen as a public policy issue; activist Margaret Sanger, who focused particularly on birth control for the poor, was instrumental in gaining legitimacy for the movement by making contraception the purview of the medical profession. Her efforts led to the popularity of the custom-fitted diaphragm and, later, to the development of the Pill. Tone focuses on contraception as a matter of customer demand and market responses, while also dealing with major controversies, including the Pill's health risks; religious objections to it; alleged racism in birth control policy; and the Dalkon Shield tragedy, in which business decisions contributed to the marketing of an unsafe IUD. Bringing the story up to 1970, Tone ends with a plea for increased research, sex education and affordable over-the-counter options for both men and women. Although some might argue that condoms already fill this need, Tone points out the irony that "the most frequently used contraceptive in th[is] country by a wide margin is irreversible female sterilization." Though some readers may find its conclusions oversimplified, this overview remains lively and informative. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Catholic obstetrician John Rock considered the pill a "morally permissible variant of the rhythm method" and assisted in its development. This is one of the many fascinating complexities found in the annals of contraception and recounted in these two books. U.S. historian Tone chronicles U.S. practices from the 1800s and Comstock era censorship, when underground cottage-industry products for both men and women thrived, advertised via euphemisms like "feminine hygiene." Under pressure from changing laws and Margaret Sanger, physicians gradually took over, touting first the diaphragm, then the pill and the IUD. As Tone recounts, condoms have remained popular; but lawsuits from medical methods and high consumer expectations post-pill have led to dampened development of new contraceptives and to sterilization's becoming popular. This account of the women who wanted to avoid pregnancy and the men and women who wanted to help them and profit from them is detailed, readable, and exhaustively referenced. For her focus on "the Pill," British historian Marks covers scientific development, testing, and use in the United States and beyond Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Marks's account is as detailed and well referenced as Tone's, somewhat more scholarly, and sometimes hard to follow since chapters are based on subtopics rather than time units. Her more medical/scientific detail and global perspective complement the coverage found in Elizabeth Watkins's On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives 1950-70 (Johns Hopkins Univ., 1998). Both Marks's and Tone's books are recommended for academic and large public libraries, and the latter is appropriate for smaller public libraries as well. Consider also James Reed's Eve's Herbs (1978) about herbal birth control since ancient times. (Tone's illustrations not seen.) Martha Cornog, Philadelphia
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Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.