- Hardcover: 408 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (October 11, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300073860
- ISBN-13: 978-0300073867
- Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,099,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gout: The Patrician Malady 1st Edition
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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
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.
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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.
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. The most amusing thing, I thought, was Gout as a symbol of social status - Gout was for the upper classes, and rather fashionable - and this resulted in many non-gout illnesses being diagnosed as Gout.
At times I found the book rather long - but I rather think that was me rather than the writing. Most of my interest lies in the Georgian period which was really the peak of the Gout popularity. I wish it had been illustrated in colour too. The only illustrations at all were in the Goutometries and those were black reproductions on standard paper. The book probably has limited interest to most people - but for lovers of Georgian period or medical histories I think this is well worth reading.