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The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 [Paperback]

Charles E. Rosenberg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 15, 1987 0226726770 978-0226726779 2nd
Cholera was the classic epidemic disease of the nineteenth century, as the plague had been for the fourteenth. Its defeat was a reflection not only of progress in medical knowledge but of enduring changes in American social thought. Rosenberg has focused his study on New York City, the most highly developed center of this new society. Carefully documented, full of descriptive detail, yet written with an urgent sense of the drama of the epidemic years, this narrative is as absorbing for general audiences as it is for the medical historian. In a new Afterword, Rosenberg discusses changes in historical method and concerns since the original publication of The Cholera Years.

"A major work of interpretation of medical and social thought . . . this volume is also to be commended for its skillful, absorbing presentation of the background and the effects of this dread disease."—I.B. Cohen, New York Times

"The Cholera Years is a masterful analysis of the moral and social interest attached to epidemic disease, providing generally applicable insights into how the connections between social change, changes in knowledge and changes in technical practice may be conceived."—Steven Shapin, Times Literary Supplement

"In a way that is all too rarely done, Rosenberg has skillfully interwoven medical, social, and intellectual history to show how medicine and society interacted and changed during the 19th century. The history of medicine here takes its rightful place in the tapestry of human history."—John B. Blake, Science

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (July 15, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226726770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226726779
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cholera amongst us today April 19, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Raising my children in Central America when the sixth world cholera pandemic reached the shores of this continent heightened my awareness as to existence of this mysterious disease. My children would bring home their cholera awareness materials from school that emphasized hand washing and clean water. Later on, I researched an incident in 1852 when Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. 4th Infantry were devastated by cholera when passing through Panama on their way to California. However, it wasn?t until I read Rosenberg?s book that I understood how horrible a death from cholera was and yet how easy it is nowadays to treat. Rosenbery brings out so many interesting aspects of the impact of cholera on public health and the fact that the disease has only been known in the Western world for a little over 200 years. Most people think cholera is biblical. The book is an easy read for a layman and too bad it appears to be mostly used as a text book in college.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great medical history study March 9, 2000
Although it was read in conjunction with an urban history class, I found this book to be very engaging and moving. Rosenberg's writing flows easily through a very disturbing subject. He sets up very fluid parallels between the epidemic's appearance at all three major years: 1832, 1849, and 1866. Of special interest is the role of the NYC Metropolitan Board of Health in controlling and defeating the epidemic.. I hope I didn't ruin the ending for any interested readers: NYC is still a healthy city, despite outbreaks like the ones that Rosenberg identifies...
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic! February 27, 2001
This book is truely a classic work of history. Although I also read it for a class (Medicine and Society in America), I recommend it to anyone with an interest in medicine, public health, religion, and general social history. In three parallel sections, the book relates the details of the 1832, 1849, and 1866 cholera epidemics. This structure results in some repetition but is needed to fully seen the connections/changes over time. It is extensively footnoted (I recommend you read these too - very interesting) and has a large bibliography... without seeming "overly academic." ENJOY.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Cholera changed America December 28, 2009
In the Republic era of America, people were assaulted daily by their own visions of success, failure, the expectations and weaknesses of a still developing concept of democracy, poverty, and illness. One such illness, Cholera, infected America three times during this period: 1832, 1849, and 1866. In America, "Cholera represented a constant and randomly reoccurring stimulus against which the varying reactions and systems of Americans could be judged", and it caused gradual changes in social attitudes, government, religious thought, and medicine as people tried to understand and cope with the disease. Historians have recently given little attention to defining and then writing about the social changes brought about by cholera, both as a process and its final result. It is part of history's recent interest in social aspects such as family and school, which medicine is a part of because the two are linked by every day life concerns.

The Cholera Years is an interesting and easy to read book. One of its strengths lies in its readability and in how it engages the reader through primary sources. Historical books that tell stories and relate true life accounts and words are more interesting than those that simply move from one fact to the next. Also, Rosenberg is very organized in his presentation of information. The sections, chopped up by cholera year, follow the same patterns as far as how information is addressed. As a result, though we are reading from one year to the next, the progressions of society and thought are easy to follow and connect together. It actually made more sense this way than if Rosenberg had approached the book topically, which would have jumped around and only confused. Unfortunately, as a weakness, Rosenberg is very repetitive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting read on the history of cholera in the US. It is not a page-turner but doesn't become boring or repetitive either.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Public health proves its value January 7, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866," by Charles E. Rosenberg, University of Chicago Press, 1987. This 265-page paperback tells the story of cholera, one of the most deadly diseases of the nineteenth century. Rosenberg's story covers the three major epidemics through the eyes of New York city newspapers.

The symptoms of cholera are characteristic. The patient experiences a sudden onset of violet vomiting, severe cramps, and diarrhea. Patients become dehydrated and often are pale and cold. Many die rapidly often within 24-hrs. The disease is thought to have originated in India. Hence, the name Asian cholera. The epidemics traveled slowly, usually with considerable forewarning. Quarantine was the usual means to delay its spread, but this method usually failed.

Smallpox, the scourge of the eighteenth century had been conquered with vaccination, but cholera posed frightening new challenges. Germ theory would arrive only in the 1850s, and be accepted only in the 1890s. Medical practice was primitive. Bleeding was still a common treatment. Diseases were poorly understood. Hospitals were considered death wards for the poor; nursing an unclean profession.

The cause of cholera was widely debated. Even the idea the disease was contagious was uncertain. Were the victims both exposed to the same cause, or did one catch the disease from the other? The poor living in the slums of the cities were often the victims. This was not a disease of the upper classes, so much so that if one fell to the disease, the cause was "previous indiscretions." Not surprisingly in 1849 in New York, most victims were Irish and Catholic.
Slum dwellers often lacked clean drinking water and relied on privies rather than sewers.
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