Wondering whether eating powdered mummies might be just the thing to cure your ills? Tempted by those vintage ads suggesting you wear radioactive underpants for virility? Ever considered drilling a hole in your head to deal with those pesky headaches? Probably not. But for thousands of years, people have done things like this—and things that make radioactive underpants seem downright sensible! In their hit podcast, Sawbones, Sydnee and Justin McElroy breakdown the weird and wonderful way we got to modern healthcare. And some of the terrifying detours along the way. [more inside]
Podcast: Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine: Sawbones: The Black Panthers and Public Health
If you received the typical, white-centric education, you probably associate the Black Panthers only with violence and political protest. This week on Sawbones, we talk about their work in medical research advocacy and creating public health programs that sought to make life better for all black and oppressed people.
What won’t we try in our quest for perfect health, beauty, and the fountain of youth? Well, just imagine a time when doctors prescribed morphine for crying infants. When liquefied gold was touted as immortality in a glass. And when strychnine—yes, that strychnine, the one used in rat poison—was dosed like Viagra. Looking back with fascination, horror, and not a little dash of dark, knowing humor, Quackery recounts the lively, at times unbelievable, history of medical misfires and malpractices. Ranging from the merely weird to the outright dangerous, here are dozens of outlandish, morbidly hilarious “treatments”—conceived by doctors and scientists, by spiritualists and snake oil salesmen (yes, they literally tried to sell snake oil)—that were predicated on a range of cluelessness, trial and error, and straight-up scams. With vintage illustrations, photographs, and advertisements throughout, Quackery seamlessly combines macabre humor with science and storytelling to reveal an important and disturbing side of the ever-evolving field of medicine.
The real story of AIDS―how it originated with a virus in a chimpanzee, jumped to one human, and then infected more than 60 million people―is very different from what most of us think we know. Recent research has revealed dark surprises and yielded a radically new scenario of how AIDS began and spread. Excerpted and adapted from the book Spillover, with a new introduction by the author, Quammen's hair-raising investigation tracks the virus from chimp populations in the jungles of southeastern Cameroon to laboratories across the globe, as he unravels the mysteries of when, where, and under what circumstances such a consequential "spillover" can happen. An audacious search for answers amid more than a century of data, The Chimp and the River tells the haunting tale of one of the most devastating pandemics of our time.
Where's your next disease coming from? From anywhere in the world--from overflowing sewage in Cairo, from a war zone in Rwanda, from an energy-efficient office building in California, from a pig farm in China or North Carolina. "Preparedness demands understanding," writes Pulitzer-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, and in this precursor to Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, she shows a clear understanding of the patterns lying beneath the new diseases in the headlines (AIDS, Lyme) and the old ones resurgent (tuberculosis, cholera). As the human population explodes, ecologies collapse and simplify, and disease organisms move into the gaps. As globalization continues, diseases can move from one country to another as fast as an airplane can fly.
The next big human pandemic―the next disease cataclysm, perhaps on the scale of AIDS or the 1918 influenza―is likely to be caused by a new virus coming to humans from wildlife. Experts call such an event “spillover” and they warn us to brace ourselves. David Quammen has tracked this subject from the jungles of Central Africa, the rooftops of Bangladesh, and the caves of southern China to the laboratories where researchers work in space suits to study lethal viruses. He illuminates the dynamics of Ebola, SARS, bird flu, Lyme disease, and other emerging threats and tells the story of AIDS and its origins as it has never before been told. Spillover reads like a mystery tale, full of mayhem and clues and questions. When the Next Big One arrives, what will it look like? From which innocent host animal will it emerge? Will we be ready?
In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters―no place for the squeamish―and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history. [more inside]
The Speckled Monster tells the dramatic story of two parents who dared to fight back against smallpox. After barely surviving the agony of smallpox themselves, they flouted eighteenth-century medicine by borrowing folk knowledge from African slaves and Eastern women in frantic bids to protect their children. From their heroic struggles stems the modern science of immunology as well as the vaccinations that remain our only hope should the disease ever be unleashed again. [more inside]
The most fatal virus known to science, rabies-a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans-kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind's oldest and most fearsome foes.
The veteran Wall Street Journal science reporter Marilyn Chase’s fascinating account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in late Victorian San Francisco is a real-life thriller that resonates in today’s headlines. The Barbary Plague transports us to the Gold Rush boomtown in 1900, at the end of the city’s Gilded Age. With a deep understanding of the effects on public health of politics, race, and geography, Chase shows how one city triumphed over perhaps the most frightening and deadly of all scourges. [more inside]
In this eye-opening exposé, acclaimed health journalist and National Geographic contributor Maryn McKenna documents how antibiotics transformed chicken from local delicacy to industrial commodity—and human health threat—uncovering the ways we can make America's favorite meat safer again. What you eat matters—for your health, for the environment, and for future generations. In this riveting investigative narrative, McKenna dives deep into the world of modern agriculture by way of chicken: from the farm where it's raised directly to your dinner table. [more inside]
In 1918, the Italian-Americans of New York, the Yupik of Alaska and the Persians of Mashed had almost nothing in common except for a virus--one that triggered the worst pandemic of modern times and had a decisive effect on the history of the twentieth century. The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was one of the greatest human disasters of all time. It infected a third of the people on Earth--from the poorest immigrants of New York City to the king of Spain, Franz Kafka, Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson. But despite a death toll of between 50 and 100 million people, it exists in our memory as an afterthought to World War I. [more inside]