The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man, and Society

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Rutgers University Press, 1952 - Medical - 277 pages
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In The White Plague, René and Jean Dubos argue that the great increase of tuberculosis was intimately connected with the rise of an industrial, urbanized society and--a much more controversial idea when this book first appeared forty years ago--that the progress of medical science had very little to do with the marked decline in tuberculosis in the twentieth century.

The White Plague has long been regarded as a classic in the social and environmental history of disease. This reprint of the 1952 edition features new introductory writings by two distinguished practitioners of the sociology and history of medicine. David Mechanic's foreword describes the personal and intellectual experience that shaped René Dubos's view of tuberculosis. Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz's historical introduction reexamines The White Plague in light of recent work on the social history of tuberculosis. Her thought-provoking essay pays particular attention to the broader cultural and medical assumptions about sickness and sick people that inform a society's approach to the conquest of disease.


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The Captain of All the Men of Death
Death Warrant for Keats
Flight from the North Winds
Contagion and Heredity
Consumption and the Romantic Age
Phthisis Consumption and Tubercles
Percussion Auscultation and the Unitarian Theory of Phthisis
The Germ Theory of Tuberculosis
Treatment and Natural Resistance
Drugs Vaccines and Public Health Measures
Healthy Living and Sanatoria
The Evolution of Epidemics
Tuberculosis and Industrial Civilization
Tuberculosis and Social Technology
Bibliography and Notes

Infection and Disease
The Evaluation of Therapeutic Procedures

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About the author (1952)

Rene Dubos was a famous microbiologist, as well as a writer, educator, and environmentalist. Born and educated in France, Dubos came to the United States in 1924 to join the research staff of Rutgers University. In 1927 he was invited to join the staff of Rockefeller University, where he spent practically his entire career. At Rockefeller University, Dubos pioneered research in antibiotics for commercial use during the 1940s. In 1939 he discovered tyrothricin, the first commercially produced antibiotic. As he grew older, his interests shifted from microbiology to humanistic and social-environmental issues. He devoted much of his writing to environmental problems and their impact on human beings. Dubos served as president of several professional organizations in the sciences, wrote 20 books, and was awarded more than a score of prizes by the scientific community. As an emeritus professor at Rockefeller University he continued to write until his death.

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