The product of six years of collaborative research, this new biography interprets a pioneering figure in anesthesiology, epidemiology, medical cartography, and public health. It modifies the conventional rags-to-riches portrait of John Snow by synthesizing fresh information about his early life from archival research and recent studies. It explores the intellectual roots of his commitments to vegetarianism, temperance, and pure drinking water, first developed when he was a medical apprentice and assistant in the north of England. The authors argue that many of Snow's later contributions are traceable to the medical perspective he imbibed as a medical student in London and put into practice early in his career as a clinician: that medicine as a science required the incorporation of recent developments in its collateral sciences-chiefly anatomy, chemistry, and physiology-in order to understand the causes of disease. Snow's theoretical breakthroughs in anesthesia were extensions of his experimental research in respiratory physiology and the properties of inhaled gases. Shortly thereafter, his understanding of gas laws led him to reject miasmatic explanations for the spread of cholera, and to develop an alternative theory that explained all facets of cholera epidemiology from transmission in households to the course of epidemics in cities and nations. Using all of Snow's extant writings, the authors follow him when working in his home laboratory, visiting patients throughout London, attending medical society meetings, and conducting studies during the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854. The result is a book that overturns much conventional belief about Snow, establishes his unique integrative scientific perspective, and demonstrates the importance of his specific contributions to medicine. It will have an impact not only on the understanding of the man but also on the history of the medical sciences in the era just preceding modern germ theory and bacteriology.


Peter Vinten-Johansen, PhD, is Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University.

Howard Brody, MD, PhD, is Professor in the Departments of Family Practice and Philosophy, and in the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State University.

Nigel Paneth, MD, MPH, is Professor of Epidemiology and Pediatrics and Human Development, and Associate Dean for Research at Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine.

Stephen Rachman, PhD, is Associate Professor of English and Director of the American Studies Program at Michigan State University.

Michael Rip, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Department of Epidemiology, Assistant Professor of Security Studies, and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Epidemiology at Michigan State University.

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