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Description - The Gospel of Germs by Nancy Tomes

The author reminds us that outbreaks of germs like AIDS and Ebola is nothing new, and that the first great "germ panic" in American history peaked in the early 1900s. Exploring the modern disease consciousness, Nancy Tomes shows how advances in bacteriology in the late-19th century showed people that they could prevent disease by taking precautions. Drawing upon sources like advice books, patent applications, advertisments, and oral histories, Tomes traces the awareness of the microbe as it radiated outward from middle-class homes into the world of American business and crossed the lines of class, gender, ethnicity, and race. The work offers a look into the history of a long-standing obsession with germs, its impact on 20th-century culture and society, and its relevance for our own lives.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674357082
ISBN-10: 0674357086
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 20mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 5-Aug-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - The Gospel of Germs by Nancy Tomes

Book Reviews - The Gospel of Germs by Nancy Tomes

US Kirkus Review » How Americans became aware of the existence of germs and how this awareness impacted their everyday lives is told in this illuminating medical/social history. Tomes (History/SUNY, Stony Brook) looks at how the germ theory, first articulated around 1870 meshed with prior theories about the spread of disease. Proponents of the new "gospel of germs" were able to build on the traditional methods of preventing disease advocated by earlier sanitarians: disinfection, water purification, plumbing, and ventilation. Around the turn of the century, attention shifted from sewer gas, contaminated water, and household dirt to other means by which germs are spread, such as coughing, sneezing, and sharing drinking cups. Tomes reveals how the antituberculosis crusade and the domestic-science movement educated Americans about dealing with these hazards; and by using trade journals, advertisements, and patent applications the author shows how entrepreneurs exploited the fear of germs to promote a host of new goods and services. Shorter skirts for women, vacuum cleaners, window screens, white-tiled bathrooms, refrigerators, paper cups, cellophane packaging - all trace their origins to the desire to create a disease-free environment. The author also illustrates how disease awareness can be a two-edged sword, stirring fear of those groups - immigrants, minorities - suspected of carrying disease and at the same time providing the impetus for improving their living and working conditions. The advent of antibiotics, however, gave rise to a generation confident of having won the war against infectious disease. As Tomes points out, that confidence is waning with threats such as HIV and other viruses, the re-emergence of killer tuberculosis, and the growing resistance of common microorganisms to once-powerful antibiotics; thus the study of the gospel of germs seems especially relevant today. Full of fascinating details of daily life, although there's probably more about bathroom plumbing and toilets than most people ever wanted to know. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Nancy Tomes

Nancy Tomes is Professor of History, State University of New York at Stony Brook, and the author of The Art of Asylum-Keeping: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Origins of American Psychiatry.