June 4, 1997

Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture Since 1870

Author Affiliations

Bryn Mawr, Pa


by Katherine Ott, 242 pp, $27.95, ISBN 0-674-29910-8, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;277(21):1732-1733. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540450088043

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Tuberculosis (also known as consumption and phthisis) has fascinated the Western world for centuries. Poets, composers, and novelists, among others, have given us lasting impressions of lives damaged and tragically shortened by the disease.

Traditional medical histories of tuberculosis have focused on the growth of medical knowledge and the campaign to control the disease. In 1952 René and Jean Dubos combined medical ideas and epidemiology with literary portrayals of famous consumptives in The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man and Society—now a classic. Historians' interest dwindled thereafter but returned in the 1980s and 1990s. By this time, AIDS had appeared, tuberculosis threatened again, and new kinds of history had developed. Scholars now examined the experience of individual patients regardless of class or fame, while others delved for insights into society and culture by examining the changing ideas about disease and the social responses to it.

In Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in