- Paperback: 143 pages
- Publisher: Transaction Publishers; Revised edition (February 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1412804671
- ISBN-13: 978-1412804677
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,360,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Childbed Fever: A Scientific Biography of Ignaz Semmelweis Paperback – February 1, 2005
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"This delightful, clearly written little book is not so much the biography of a man as the biography of a disease: puerperal fever."
—Journal of the American Medical Association
"[T]here is much that is new and stimulating in this short biography of one of the most complex and puzzling of all the famous doctors of the nineteenth century. It is well worth reading, for Semmelweis is a much more interesting study than the cardboard saint of the standard biographies."
—Bulletin for the History of Medicine
About the Author
K. Codell Carter is professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. He is the author of numerous books, including Childbed Fever, The Rise of Causal Concepts of Disease, and A First Course in Logic.
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First--the dramatic story of a man of vision who is persecuted and ultimately dies for being right. Second--the full context of the Viennese medical hierarchy with its petty jealousies and illogical conclusions that abandon scientific theory. Third--the sweeping perspectives into human nature and the blindness we sometimes cherish, all to preserve the status quo.
Told with fascinating detail, K Codell and Barbara Carter paint a sometimes horrifying, often mesmerizing portrait of an extraordinary man, the times he lived in, and the inescapable connections we are compelled to make to our times, where similar travesties still occur--what Barbara Tuchman has called "wooden headedness," or adherence to "pre-conceived, fixed notions" to the extent that truth is buried in personal egos and agendas.
This moving history gets at the heart of human endeavor and the frustrations of genius, the detours of innovation, and the heart-breaking sacrifices exacted in the name of progress.
Highly readable and engrossing--highly recommended.
As a scientific biography of the life and work of Ignaz Semmelweis, the heart of the book belongs to Chapters 3 and 4 where the authors discuss Semmelweis's struggles to prevent childbed fever and to know its cause while also giving attention to his theory of causation. For reasons the authors make tragically clear, Ignaz Semmelweis failed to have his work and discovery be immediately accepted, and he died ignobly, having been used, as a political pawn by those in power who believed in his discovery and work, and, simultaneously abused, by yet others in power who did not believe in his discovery and could, and, in fact, did refuse him work as well as respect.
By and large, this book is intended for a popular audience and is charmingly, engagingly, and dramatically written, making "clear exactly" why Ignaz Semmelweis, a once-head resident of obstetrics in 1846 Vienna, was and remains an important figure in medical science - not just to pregnant women and neonates then and now and not just to the now widely accepted practice of antiseptics, but as well to the theoretical development of modern medicine in the early 19th and 20th centuries for the authors show distinctively how Semmelweis, as an innovator, was among the most important mid-19th century scientific figures for defining diseases in such a way that each disease has only one specific cause, a way of thinking that we take for granted today but was completely revolutionary in the mid-1800s.
The charm of this lucidly written work comes from a pleasant knack for accurate historical detail of the time-period, as if observed from a fresh, eye-witness account: "In the nineteenth century, Vaci uta was an important shopping street . . . The building [in which Semmelweis lived] encloses a quiet courtyard from which an ancient well-worn circular marble stairway ascends to the third floor . . ." or "The General Hospital occupies a system of buildings that surrounds a dozen large rectangular courtyards arranged like an irregular checkerboard. The courtyards contain gardens, shady trees, walks, and occasional statutes of prominent persons who have been associated with Viennese medicine."
What is touching and essentially dramatic about this work comes from the well-organized narrative sweep of events the authors orchestrate in keeping with a near-mythic story-line of a young and enterprising man who, as a living protagonist, heroically emerges from a miserable hospital setting, really a house of death (the real and intended name for this book, according to the authors' Introduction, was "House of Death"), to become someone who pits himself against a dreadful antagonist, the killer disease then known as "childbed fever", and, remarkably, in the end, defeats it (or, at least, renders it significantly impotent), while, simultaneously, giving the world a universal, necessary gift, much like Prometheus is said to have given mankind fire.
What is unique about this particular biography, the facts of which nearly every student of medical history apparently already knows, is that, as a popular primer, it satisfies the reader's intellectual curiosity (for "Why?") without ruining the narrative pace for those readers who simply might just want "a good read." It also invents no detail where historical facts are unavailable just merely to keep progress with a strong narrative. The authors stay unflinchingly true to the historical record and yet create no bar to the flow of the story.
The last chapter (Chapter 6) is a bit disconcerting but provocative overall. While this chapter might feasibly have been reduced to an extended footnote after Chapter 5, "Mayrhofer's Discovery," on the one hand, or might have been labeled as an Appendix, on the other, thus transforming the chapter in such a way as to make it more consistent in tone as a popular primer, it contains noteworthy contemporary analyses of streptococci today, first as they relate to puerperal fever, but secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to the threat of the virulent growth of streptococci in the near-future, scarily yet prophetically hinting at events (not known in 2005 when the book was published, but which) we now know in 2007 as "the Superbug" (MRSA) for which there is abundant horrific evidence presently in Baltimore, Maryland.
This last chapter calls out for even greater understanding of streptococci and caution in dealing with it, and, in its own understated but emphatically philosophical way, it ultimately illustrates the idea that the philosophy of science is not a mere Ivory Tower enterprise; it is a highly practical project, one with life-or-death or real consequences.
This is a wonderful book and highly recommended to everyone. A couple of minor quibbles are appropriate at this point, and the first has to do with the price. It ought to be more affordable for its intended target audience. $24 (plus tax) for a paperback is steep. Secondly, since this work is largely a republication of an earlier 1995 hardback but with an Introduction newly added, the early error of repeating Semmelweis's age at death as being "forty-two" (as it was printed in the original Preface) ought to have been fixed before republishing. That having been said, to find the footnotes arranged at the end of each chapter rather than at the end of the book was itself a real joy as it made reading each chapter easy and eliminated the drudgery of flipping back and forth between pages to points of distraction. Reading this short book was an emotional as well as intellectual delight. May it find a broad audience (and perhaps a less technical publisher).
Most Humans, being Humans in 2012, cannot recognise or give the full amount of respect due, to Men like Dr Semmelweis. It's hard to find the Words to put the basic truths in this Story in context, when even today, Doctors are brutallisung Women with Masectomies and Double Masectomies etc.