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Book and Media Reviews
May 16, 2007

The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle Against Filth and Germs

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Fishbein Fellow.

JAMA. 2007;297(19):2141-2144. doi:10.1001/jama.297.19.2144

David Barnes' book helps to remind us that France in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was indeed the birthplace for public health theory and practice. The dominant belief of the 19th-century sanitarians was that miasma emanating from bad smells and filth caused both epidemic and endemic disease. According to our historical perspective, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch overturned this approach in the last quarter of the 19th century. Historians have referred to this shift as the bacteriological revolution. Barnes refines this interpretation to show that the sanitarian approach was not supplanted by–but rather appropriated and incorporated into—the new science of bacteriology to produce a “sanitary-bacteriological synthesis.”

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