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May 22, 1987

Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health

JAMA. 1987;257(20):2831-2832. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390200171040

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Modern American physicians and public health professionals perceive illness and the condition that we call "health" in ways different from those of our forebears. Medical education short-changes medical history, and, as a consequence, we risk forgetting the lessons of the past.

This excellent collection of historical vignettes provides useful and captivating reading for health professionals at all levels. It is not a collection of accolades to a few prominent physicians but rather a series of descriptions of important ideas, movements, and concepts in the evolution of modern medicine and public health. In the overview, the editors emphasize that food and filth are as important as physicians and hospitals in the decline of illness and the prolongation of life. The essays, therefore, describe lay and professional successes and failures ranging from "physicians to patent medicines, from masturbation to smallpox, from birthing to bacteriology." The book further affirms that "to understand sickness