Synopses & Reviews
Allergy is the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. More than fifty million Americans suffer from allergies, and they spend an estimated $18 billion coping with them. Yet despite advances in biomedicine and enormous investment in research over the past fifty years, the burden of allergic disease continues to grow. Why have we failed to reverse this trend?
Breathing Space offers an intimate portrait of how allergic disease has shaped American culture, landscape, and life. Drawing on environmental, medical, and cultural history and the life stories of people, plants, and insects, Mitman traces how America's changing environment from the late 1800s to the present day has led to the epidemic growth of allergic disease. We have seen a never-ending stream of solutions to combat allergies, from hay fever resorts, herbicides, and air-conditioned homes to numerous potions and pills. But, as Mitman shows, despite the quest for a magic bullet, none of the attempted solutions has succeeded. Until we address how our changing environment physical, biological, social, and economic has helped to create America's allergic landscape, that hoped-for success will continue to elude us.
"Mitman and his son Keefe are members of the 'tribe' of allergy medication users whose expenditures fuel a $5-billion industry. Studying both the history and business of allergies, Mitman-a historian of science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison-traces hay fever from its first (erroneous) identification as an ailment of the wealthy in the 19th century up to the modern, booming antihistamine market. Since seasonal allergies were first identified, misconceptions have shaped their treatment. Early sufferers escaped to hay fever resorts in areas where their sinuses mysteriously cleared. Believing that the communion with nature had led to the reprieve, many escaped to country homesteads landscaped with the very plants whose pollen causes hay fever. As Mitman demonstrates, the story of hay fever is also the story of the development of nature tourism, urban planning and the postwar pharmaceutical boom. As Mitman demonstrates, Americans seeking relief have changed where they live, what they build their homes with, what they buy, what activities they participate in and even the chemistry of their own bodies-but still all you hear every spring is sneezes. In clear and detailed prose, Mitman offers a wide-ranging history of this ongoing struggle that's as much about 20th century American consumerism as it is about allergies. Illustrations." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Full of the wisdom of lessons learned as well as of noted authorities, Mitman's thoughtful presentation is nothing to sneeze at." Booklist
"A university professor who usually writes for highly specialized journals explodes all sorts of myths about allergies in this fascinating book." Seattle Times
About the Author
Gregg Mitman is William Coleman Professor of the History of Science and professor of medical history and science and technology studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of two award-winning books and many journal and scholarly articles on history of science topics. He lives in Madison.