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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review-Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea

*This is going to be a very informal review, as I am writing a formal book review for publication.

Brown, Kevin. 2011. Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis

At first this book seems a bit unorganized, but as you continue to read the chapters, a pattern emerges. Each chapter is a new topic (or two) but always covers disease prevention, nutrition, diet, exercise, treatment aboard and treatment ashore. Usually in that order. Brown covers from the 14th century through today.

I'm not sure if it is because I worked at the Country Doctor Museum for a year during grad school or if it is that weird fascination that most people have about tragedy, but I really enjoyed this book. I found it interesting and insightful in so many ways. For example, most scholars reference the transmission of epidemics from old world to new world and the return-favor disease of syphilis. Brown goes farther, explaining why epidemics break out on ships, the development of maritime hospitals and quarantines to deal with these diseases, and the ground breaking work of ship surgeons. He explains that ships were the ideal control group with diseases accelerated by conditions, hygiene and lack of treatment options. Also the patients were all very similar-men, youngish, and had the same diet and environmental conditions=perfect control group!

Brown doesn't just focus on the sailors. Many have learned about the horrible conditions of slave ships. Brown presents some of those conditions and takes it further. He explains the motivating factor of money on health in the slave trade. It is cheaper to throw sick slaves into the sea before they die rather than report a sickness related death. And there is no monetary reason to treat sailors as they are less valuable than the slaves. He goes on to discuss emigrants on passenger ships-sometimes just as crowded as slave ships. He talks about the health exams before boarding, women and children's health aboard (first time large numbers of women and children were crossing oceans), and the infamous health exams at Ellis Island.

I learned a lot, and gathered some of the missing pieces in maritime medicine! I would recommend it to anyone interested in medical history or sickness at sea.

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Maritime Culture by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License