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Books, Journals, New Media
July NaN, 1998

GermsThe Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for software


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JAMA. 1998;280(4):388-389. doi:10.1001/jama.280.4.388-JBK0722-3-1

Most of us recall all too well our parents' constant admonitions for maintaining health and avoiding "germs." "Don't let anyone cough on you" was still a common warning I remember as a child growing up during the 1960s. But as historian Nancy Tomes elegantly documents in The Gospel of Germs, the striking role the microbe has played in American society is a rather new phenomenon.

Beginning with Robert Koch's articulation of the germ theory and his elucidation of the etiologies of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera in the early 1880s, the gospel of germs was increasingly preached to Americans in the hopes that "clean living," so to speak, would reduce the alarming rates of disease and death. How these ideas related to avoiding contact with pathogenic microbes became socially embedded in the daily lives of American men and women, particularly between the years 1880 and 1930, is the major objective of Professor Tomes' scholarship.

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