Ott opens her treatment of the cultural, social and economic evolution of tuberculosis in the U.S in the mid-nineteenth century, although she refers back to antecedent historical events. The study follows how the evolving principles of bacteriology were applied to a syndrome the medical world did not recognize as having a single etiology. Tuberculosis did not fit the epidemiologic patterns of epidemic diseases as recognized by public health specialists.

Ott focuses heavily on the economics of the illness, as well as on its changing social status. Her final chapter examines the contemporary meaning of the disease as it once again is heralded as a public health problem in the U.S.


The greatest strength of this work is its readability. The language is crisp and the framework clear and concise. It certainly adds an interesting dimension to the study of the implications of tuberculosis in the history of U.S. medicine. As with all attempts at interpretation of cultural meaning, the work expresses but one viewpoint and must therefore be read with this limitation in mind.

There are some errors in numbers and dates of events, and instances in which medical language is not used quite accurately. However, the work is a valuable addition to the fiction and history of this most fascinating health problem.


The text includes extensive endnotes.


Harvard Univ. Press

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.



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