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January 17, 1996

The Making of a Social Disease: Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century France

Author Affiliations

Baylor College of Medicine Sugar Land, Tex

JAMA. 1996;275(3):250. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530270090043

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The Making of a Social Disease is not written by a physician but by an assistant professor of liberal arts. It is not a clinical text, but a historical one; not about America, but France; not about our times, but the years from 1819 to 1919; and not about infectious diseases in general, but just tuberculosis (TB). And yet, it is an absorbing, well-written, superbly researched, thought-provoking, useful, and magisterial book. Because its subject is intemporal and universal, we all can learn from it.

There seems to be something ancestral, almost archetypal, in the reactions of individuals and societies to the presence of any serious disease. Why me? Are the gods or the demons angry? Have we broken any taboo, code, law? Is this punishment deserved? Who is to blame? How did we get it? Will the suffering be intense or long or end in death? What is the meaning