Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth-Century America
By Keith Wailoo, PhD
Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth-Century America is the first of two books written by Dr Wailoo (the second being The Troubled Dream of Genetic Medicine: Ethnicity and Innovation in Tay-Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis, and Sickle Cell Disease, which I’ll review at a later time when I do a re-read) that I’ve read.
For whatever reason, I remember reading the introduction and suddenly realizing that historian Dr Wailoo is black. Not that this affected my perception of him as an author but it did strike me that this may have been one of the few medical history books I’ve read written by a black author.
Back to the book. As opposed by most medical history books I have read, this is a more scholarly tome of more interest to scholars and academics of medical history rather than myself, who is more of a lay reader, not directly involved in the subject.
As a consequence, this wasn’t what I would term an easy read, in fact, it took a lot of my concentration to follow some of the more esoteric points that Dr Wailoo made. This isn’t to say this is a bad book, but it’s one you probably want to peruse as part of writing a thesis – it’s really not for casual reading.
The basic point of the book, one that is eloquently demonstrated time and time again, was how the physician, sitting upon his pedestal proclaimed what was disease and what wasn’t. It wasn’t until the beginnings of the 20th century that technology and technological physicians started to wield their influence and showed that their technology was a better judge of what should be deemed a disease.
I was particularly interested in the chapter on Sickle Cell Anemia because I remember all the fuss in the 1970s within the black community concerning how just having the trait meant that one had the disease (which is not true). That and the long-standing basic mistrust of the medical community stemming from the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments. I wish Dr Wailoo had delved a bit more into the eugenics of the description of Sickle Cell anemia as a “Negro” disease and how miscegenation was promoted to prevent this in the white race (at this time, the disease was considered dominate rather than the recessive trait we know it is now).
I would rate this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. But I would save it for the rainy day you want to read a more academic tome.
Next up, Coroner by Thomas T. Noguchi and Joseph DiMona.
(Review published 09 May, 2015)