Health Care in America: A History

JHU Press
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In Health Care in America, historian John C. Burnham describes changes over four centuries of medicine and public health in America. Beginning with seventeenth-century concerns over personal and neighborhood illnesses, Burnham concludes with the arrival of a new epoch in American medicine and health care at the turn of the twenty-first century.

From the 1600s through the 1990s, Americans turned to a variety of healers, practices, and institutions in their efforts to prevent and survive epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, polio, and AIDS. Health care workers in all periods attended births and deaths and cared for people who had injuries, disabilities, and chronic diseases.

Drawing on primary sources, classic scholarship, and a vast body of recent literature in the history of medicine and public health, Burnham finds that traditional healing, care, and medicine dominated the United States until the late nineteenth century, when antiseptic/aseptic surgery and germ theory initiated an intellectual, social, and technical transformation. He divides the age of modern medicine into several eras: physiological medicine (1910s–1930s), antibiotics (1930s–1950s), technology (1950s–1960s), environmental medicine (1970s–1980s), and, beginning around 1990, genetic medicine. The cumulating developments in each era led to today’s radically altered doctor-patient relationship and the insistent questions that swirl around the financial cost of health care.

Burnham’s sweeping narrative makes sense of medical practice, medical research, and human frailties and foibles, opening the door to a new understanding of our current concerns.

-- Gerald N. Grob, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, author of Aging Bones: A Short History of Osteoporosis
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About the author

John C. Burnham is a research professor of history at the Ohio State University, where he is also an associated scholar in the Medical Heritage Center. His most recent books include What Is Medical History? and Accident Prone: A History of Technology, Psychology, and Misfits of the Machine Age.

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Publisher
JHU Press
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Published on
Apr 23, 2015
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Pages
616
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ISBN
9781421416090
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / History
Medical / Public Health
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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John C. Burnham
The vast majority of Americans have, at one point or another gotten drunk, smoked, dabbled with drugs, gambled, sworn or engaged in adultery. During the 1800s, respectable people struggled to control these behaviors, labeling them bad and the people who indulged in them unrespectable. In the twentieth century, however, these minor vices were transformed into a societal complex of enormous and pervasive influence. Yet the general belief persists that these activities remain merely harmless bad habits, individual transgressions more than social problems. Not so, argues distinguished historian John C. Burnham, in this pioneering study.

In Bad Habits, Burnham traces the growth of a veritable minor vice-industrial complex. As it grew, activities that might have been harmless, natural, and sociable fun resulted in fundamental social change. When Burnham set out to explore the influence of these bad habits on American society, he sought to discover why so many good people engaged in activities that many, including they themselves, considered bad. What he found, however, was a coalition of economic and social interests in which the single-minded quest for profit allied with the values of the Victorian saloon underworld and bohemian rebelliousness. This combination radically inverted common American standards of personal conduct.

Bad Habits, then, describes, in words and pictures, how more and more Americans learned to value hedonism and self-gratification—to smoke and swear during World War I, to admire cabaret night life, and to reject schoolmarmish standards in the age of Prohibition. Tracing the evolution of each of the bad habits, Burnham tells how liquor control boards encouraged the consumption of alcohol; how alcoholic beverage producers got their workers deferred from the draft during World War II; how convenience stores and accounting firms pursued profits by pushing legalized gambling; how swinging Playboy bankrolled a drug advocacy group; how advertising and television made the Marlboro Man a national hero; how drug paraphernalia was promoted by national advertisers; how a practical joker/drug addict caused a shortage of kitty litter on Long Island; and how the evolution of an entire sex therapy industry helped turn sexual experience into a new kind of commodity. Altogether, a lot of people made a lot of money. But what, the author asks, did these changes cost American society?

This illustrated tour de force by one of the most distinctive and important voices in social history reveals John C. Burnham at his provocative and controversial best.

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John C. Burnham
The vast majority of Americans have, at one point or another gotten drunk, smoked, dabbled with drugs, gambled, sworn or engaged in adultery. During the 1800s, respectable people struggled to control these behaviors, labeling them bad and the people who indulged in them unrespectable. In the twentieth century, however, these minor vices were transformed into a societal complex of enormous and pervasive influence. Yet the general belief persists that these activities remain merely harmless bad habits, individual transgressions more than social problems. Not so, argues distinguished historian John C. Burnham, in this pioneering study.

In Bad Habits, Burnham traces the growth of a veritable minor vice-industrial complex. As it grew, activities that might have been harmless, natural, and sociable fun resulted in fundamental social change. When Burnham set out to explore the influence of these bad habits on American society, he sought to discover why so many good people engaged in activities that many, including they themselves, considered bad. What he found, however, was a coalition of economic and social interests in which the single-minded quest for profit allied with the values of the Victorian saloon underworld and bohemian rebelliousness. This combination radically inverted common American standards of personal conduct.

Bad Habits, then, describes, in words and pictures, how more and more Americans learned to value hedonism and self-gratification—to smoke and swear during World War I, to admire cabaret night life, and to reject schoolmarmish standards in the age of Prohibition. Tracing the evolution of each of the bad habits, Burnham tells how liquor control boards encouraged the consumption of alcohol; how alcoholic beverage producers got their workers deferred from the draft during World War II; how convenience stores and accounting firms pursued profits by pushing legalized gambling; how swinging Playboy bankrolled a drug advocacy group; how advertising and television made the Marlboro Man a national hero; how drug paraphernalia was promoted by national advertisers; how a practical joker/drug addict caused a shortage of kitty litter on Long Island; and how the evolution of an entire sex therapy industry helped turn sexual experience into a new kind of commodity. Altogether, a lot of people made a lot of money. But what, the author asks, did these changes cost American society?

This illustrated tour de force by one of the most distinctive and important voices in social history reveals John C. Burnham at his provocative and controversial best.

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