Chances are most of what you’ve learned about Tuberculosis, also known as Consumption or Phthisis, likely has come from the wealth of pop culture references in everything from romance novels to operas. In Helen Bynum’s book, Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis, she attempts to clear away the beautification of a disgustingly awful disease and show what really happened to figures such as John Keats and George Orwell. No my friends, a woman with a Tuberculosis infection in the lungs would not be singing epic pieces in La Boheme or Moulin Rouge. Though Tuberculosis was nearly eradicated in Western Cultures in the late Twentieth Century, it has continued to linger in the developing world and has even formed drug-resistant strains that still exist today. Bynum starts from the earliest descriptions of Tuberculosis in classic texts and brings us up to its recent return. She discusses traditional treatments, the differences between cure methods for the wealthy and poor and humanizes the suffers by discussing the history of some famous figures who died from the wasting disease.
Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis is wonderful because Helen Bynum has made it so accessible to readers. While she discuses the ins and outs of medical histories and the actual medical names for different symptoms and diseases, she tells a good story. Bynum allows readers to expand their horizons while still living in the realm of easy to understand language. Still, this book is not for the weak of stomach and certainly isn’t the feel good book of the Spring. Having read this book during my break times in a very public office, I will admit I got a great deal of stares. Bynum’s descriptions are factually sound and her descriptions of past medical beliefs make me happy to be alive in a modern era of medicine.
Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis is not for all readers, but for those interested in the real nature of Tuberculosis and the history of it’s spread across the world, this book is a fantastic read.
Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis is now available from Oxford University Press.