Synopses & Reviews
Edgar Allan Poe vividly recalls standing in a prison cell, fearing for his life, as he watched men mutilate and dismember the body of his mother. That memory, however graphic and horrifying, was not real. It was a hallucination, one of many suffered by the writer, caused by his addiction to alcohol.
Inand#160;Rum Maniacs, Matthew Warner Osborn reveals how and why pathological drinking became a subject of medical interest, social controversy, and lurid fascination in the early American republic. At the heart of that story is the disease that Poe suffered: delirium tremens. First described in 1813, delirium tremens and its characteristic hallucinations inspired sweeping changes in how the medical profession saw and treated the problems of alcohol abuse. Based on new theories of pathological anatomy, human physiology, and mental illness, the new diagnosis founded the medical conviction and popular belief that habitual drinking could become a psychological and physiological disease. By midcentury, delirium tremens had inspired a wide range of popular theater, poetry, fiction, and illustration. This romantic fascination endured into the twentieth century, most notably in the classic Disney cartoonand#160;Dumbo, in which a pink pachyderm marching band haunts a drunken young elephant.and#160;Rum Maniacsand#160;reveals just how delirium tremens shaped the modern experience of alcohol addiction as a psychic struggle with inner demons.
"Although history professor Matthew Werner Osborn concentrates on how alcohol influenced this country two centuries or more ago, perhaps the greatest virtue of his learned, intelligent study is the light it sheds on the phenomenon that continues to plague us right up to the present. Given the cost to society--in money and in so much else--of addiction to alcohol (and to other substances), it is salutary to learn about the roots of the problem."
and#8220;Osbornand#8217;s deep engagement with previously unstudied sources, medical and philosophical discourse, literary production, and social history are on bright display in this smart and pleasurable contribution to scholarship. If you want to grapple with the history of alcoholism, medicine, culture, and society in nineteenth-century America, then read and reckon with Rum Maniacs.and#8221;
and#8220;Osborn's path-breaking book explains the largely ignored physician-based temperance movement in Philadelphia from 1820 to 1850 in an entirely new way. This work is a major contribution not only to the history of alcohol but also to the history of medicine and to the history of ideas. The author demonstrates that rising alcohol consumption, along with a concomitant rise in delirium tremens, coincided with a need to rethink the very meaning of medicine in Philadelphia during these years.and#8221;
and#8220;A fascinating social and intellectual history of the medical profession in early America, Rum Maniacs traces the many ways in which a new disease of deliriumand#160;tremens became visible and#8212; in newspapers, medical journals, hospital records, temperance activism, popular entertainment, and clinical practice.and#160; In its detailed but wide-ranging attention to institutions, practices, theories, and aspirations shaping medical education, it offers a sophisticated casestudy of the interplay of learned and popular cultures by which pathological drinking came to be imagined by nineteenth-century Americans.and#8221;and#160;
"This important study explores the medicalization of alcohol abuse in the 19th-century US. Focusing largely on the experience of physicians and patients in Philadelphia, Osborn examines the social and economic climates in which heavy drinking came to be seen as a medical condition. . . . Highly recommended."
andldquo;It is hard to imagine a better guide to the many meanings with which delirium tremens was freighted in nineteenth-century America than Rum Maniacs. This is a consistently fascinating account exhibiting an impeccably even-handed approach to its often disturbing subject matter.andrdquo;
andldquo;This beautifully structured and persuasive cultural history argues that representations of alcoholic insanity as a terrifying disease allowed Americans to grapple with powerful anxieties about failure and its causes in a century of unprecedented economic uncertainty.andrdquo;
andldquo;Osbornandrsquo;s book is richly documented and intellectually impressive . . . Alcohol abuse came to be seen as a medical problem, sadly one without a medical remedy, and Osborn impressively contextualizes this chapter in the history of medicine.andrdquo;
Despite the lack of medical consensus regarding alcoholism as a disease, many people readily accept the concept of addiction as a clinical as well as a social disorder. An alcoholic is a victim of social circumstance and genetic destiny. Although one might imagine that this dual approach is a reflection of today's enlightened and sympathetic society, historian Sarah Tracy discovers that efforts to medicalize alcoholism are anything but new.
Alcoholism in America tells the story of physicians, politicians, court officials, and families struggling to address the danger of excessive alcohol consumption at the turn of the century. Beginning with the formation of the American Association for the Cure of Inebriates in 1870 and concluding with the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, this study examines the effect of the disease concept on individual drinkers and their families and friends, as well as the ongoing battle between policymakers and the professional medical community for jurisdiction over alcohol problems. Tracy captures the complexity of the political, professional, and social negotiations that have characterized the alcoholism field both yesterday and today.
Tracy weaves American medical history, social history, and the sociology of knowledge into a narrative that probes the connections among reform movements, social welfare policy, the specialization of medicine, and the social construction of disease. Her insights will engage all those interested in America's historic and current battles with addiction.
Alcoholism in America tells the story of physicians, politicians, court officials, and families struggling to address the problem of excessive alcohol consumption at the turn of the century. Beginning with the formation of the American Association for the Cure of Inebriates in 1870 and concluding with the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, historian Sarah Tracy examines the effect of the disease concept of alcoholism on individual drinkers and their families and friends, as well as the ongoing battle between policy makers and the professional medical community for jurisdiction over alcohol problems.
In Rum Maniacs, Matthew Osborn traces how and why pathological drinking became a subject of medical interest, social controversy, and lurid fascination in the early American republic. At the heart of that story is the history of delirium tremens and the and#147;fantastic terrorsand#8221; that characterize the disease. It was a relatively new disease, however, having been first described by British physicians in 1813. Why, Osborn asks, did a well-known condition that had long held no interest to physicians suddenly become a cutting-edge medical diagnosis? The diagnosis was made possible in part by broad developments within the medical profession and#150; including the transatlantic circulation of medical texts and journals, the rapid expansion of medical education, and the growing practice of pathological anatomy and#150; but also by historical developments outside the medical sphere and#150; including contemporary trends in literary and popular culture that physicians drew upon in their narrative case histories of the disease. Delirium tremens, Osborn shows, was inseparable from the intellectual, social, economic, and cultural developments that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This blossoming interest marked the beginning of the dramatic intervention of the American medical profession into the social response to alcohol abuse (or and#147;intemperance,and#8221; as it was then termed).
About the Author
Matthew Warner Osborn
is assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Table of Contents
1 Ardent Spirits and Republican Medicine
2 Discovering Delirium Tremens
3 Hard Drinking and Want
4 The Benevolent Empire of Medicine
5 The Pathology of Intemperance
6 The Drunkardand#8217;s Demons
Epilogue: Alcoholics and Pink Elephants