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March 7, 1986

Doctors and Slaves: A Medical and Demographic History of Slavery in the British West Indies, 1680-1834

Author Affiliations

University of Iowa Iowa City

JAMA. 1986;255(9):1200-1201. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370090126037

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This is a severely flawed work. It represents considerable scholarly effort, the author having consulted primary sources in several countries and reviewed an extensive body of secondary works on the topic, but research needs good writing to back it up. The book fails because the work lacks a unifying theme, because the author seems uncomfortable with certain types of evidence (mainly medical), and because his literary style is ponderous.

The author's stated purpose is to investigate those facets of slave life affecting health (p xv). These include "culture shock, diet, work loads, punishment, housing, clothing, sanitation, and occupational hazards." This initial sentence, with its peculiar parallel construction (surely, "work loads" and "occupational hazards" ought to come nearer one another) and the use of an essentially slang expression like "culture shock" in a scholarly work, is no accident. The entire book sets out practically randomly ordered essays on topics as diverse