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3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300082746
ISBN-10: 0300082746
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In their study of an ailment that has tormented the big toes of some big men--Kant, Samuel Johnson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson--Porter and Rousseau turn the argument of Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors on its head. Sontag thinks disease should be freed of its freight of cultural associations and stigmas.

But disease and metaphor inevitably go hand in hand. This was especially true in the days when gout was mysterious, before Queen Victoria's future physician showed it was caused by uric-acid crystals producing excruciating pain in the extremities. Milton told a friend that if he were only free of gout pain, blindness would be tolerable. The pain felt "as if I was walking on my eyeballs," writes one sufferer. Since one had to be rich to live long enough to get gout, and most victims were males (many of whom drank port laced with gout-intensifying lead), it won a reputation as just punishment for high living, and even a kind of badge of meritocratic honor. It was God's gift to caricaturists like Hogarth, Cruikshank, and Gillray. George Eliot used gout as a symbol for a sick society in Middlemarch. The data fascinates, but the professors don't wear their learning lightly. Still, they do score some good phrases. Explaining that there aren't many portraits of gout sufferers because few victims would pose, they write, "Who wants to be remembered as a septuagenarian freak of Falstaffian glob?" --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Porter is a well-known medical historian at the Wellcome Institute in London and author of The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (LJ 2/15/98), perhaps the best general history of medicine available today. Rousseau is an English professor at the University of Aberdeen. Together, they have written a thorough and enlightening history of gout, whose most famous sufferers included Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon. They explore the medical establishment's changing views of gout and the public's reaction to the disease. They also examine the idea that gout was a disease of the wealthy and the graphic images of gout in the media. Particular attention is paid to the disease's literary aspects and how it has been portrayed in the novels of such authors as Dickens and Thackeray. While this book is highly recommended for medical history and large academic libraries, its scope may be too narrow for most public and college libraries, which should consider Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind instead.?Eric D. Albright, Duke Medical Center Lib., Durham, NC
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300082746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300082746
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,841,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
This is the third review I have written on Socio-medical histories by Roy Porter. I read and reviewed this book, "Gout - the Patrician Malady" at the same time as his more general medical histories "Cambridge Illustrated History: Medicine" - and "The Greatest Benefit to Mankind". I wanted to compare these books with Porter's work on more specific topics. Porter mentions Gout in passing in both his general histories, but I wondered how he would deal with a more specific subject which had the space of an entire book to develop.
He certainly brings the same light writing style to this book as he does to his other subjects and I it made fun reading for what at times could have been very dull and dry.
Porter turns a medical subject into a very interesing social history, he overlays the historical recognition of Gout, its rise in prevalance and treatment, as well as the development of it as a fashionable, upper-class ailment very well. He does this by drawing in the literature and art of the times to track its social progress. Porter certainly shows himself a master of the subject. However, I didn't like the way he sectioned the book. It felt clumsy to me. It is in three parts Histories, Cultures and Goutometries and they seemed to overlap especially the last two sections. Although I did love the chapter on Art in 'Goutometries'. Perhaps the most interesting chapter for me was the in the 'Cultures' section "Indian Summer; Romantic and Victorian Gout" which traced the literary tradition against the actual social status of Gout through the nineteenth century using representations of Gout in Disraeli and Austen to George Eliot.
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Format: Paperback
An overview of, apparently, everything anyone ever wrote about the gout. Well, not quite "anyone": it's very much Euro-centric, indeed from the 17th century on it's almost exclusively Anglo-centric. And not quite "ever": it pretty much stops with the dawn of the 20th century, except for one Wizard of Id cartoon. But when I say "everything" I mean EVERYTHING, to the point of tedium. Thoroughness is generally a good quality, and it's very very thorough--40 pages of endnotes (which are not lengthy digressions: most are simple one-line citations), 50+ pages of bibliography--but lordy, there's no *there* there. In particular, I would have liked, either at the beginning or the end, a precis of the modern medical interpretation of what gout is, to compare and contrast with evolving interpretations over the ages. And besides "regular" gout, more explanation of what earlier centuries were talking about with their irregular gout, flying gout, wandering gout, retrocedent gout, and various other flavors. What this is, is the solid spadework necessary for someone else to go out and write a *useful* history of gout.

One good point: I learned that Edward "Decline and Fall" Gibbon was so short and round that his friends nicknamed him "Mr Chubby-Chubb"; also, he had a swollen testicle as large as a melon, "which he did his best to ignore." (How?!?) (He eventually died of septicaemia from surgery to remove same.)

One especially bad point: In the last two chapters, on gout in literature and in art (almost exclusively English literature and art, of course), the language is so twee and academic and lit-crit as to be quite opaque. There were whole passages where I simply did not understand what the authors were saying.
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Format: Paperback
Many interesting points in this book, but it was all very disorganized, and all too often the most interesting moments were curtailed with a short "there's not enough space here to cover that." The language of the book is overbearingly pedantic to no great effect, obscuring rather than clarifying the arguments. On the other hand, the subject matter is fascinating, and if you sift through a lot of nonsense, you can get a great overview of how the concept of disease generally -- and one in particular -- works it way through history and culture.
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