Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Booknotes: Healing a Divided Nation

New Arrival:
Healing a Divided Nation: How the American Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine by Carole Adrienne (Pegasus Bks, 2022).

From the description: "At the start of the Civil War, the medical field in America was rudimentary, unsanitary, and woefully underprepared to address what would become the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil. However, in this historic moment of pivotal social and political change, medicine was also fast evolving to meet the needs of the time. Unprecedented strides were made in the science of medicine, and as women and African Americans were admitted into the field for the first time."

One of the overarching themes of Carole Adrienne's Healing a Divided Nation is her argument that we can trace much of our current healthcare system and its diverse practitioners to the ways in which the Civil War transformed western medicine. Primarily in its "cultural and historical context," Adrienne's book illustrates "how the advancements made in these four years reverberated throughout the western world for years to come."

More from the description: "Beginning with the state of medicine at the outset of the war, when doctors did not even know about sterilizing their tools, Adrienne illuminates the transformation in American healthcare through primary source texts that document the lives and achievements of the individuals who pioneered these changes in medicine and society." Glancing through the book, which is written in popular history style, narrative emphasis is primarily placed on individual stories and their sociological impact. That said, the historical outlook is broad. "Analyzing the changes in education, society, humanitarianism, and technology in addition to the scientific strides of the period lends Healing a Divided Nation a uniquely wide lens to the topic, expanding the legacy of the developments made."

The first chapter looks at the state of medicine in the US on the eve of the Civil War (including a rundown of some common treatment protocols), and the second summarizes how emerging weapons and technology expanded killing power and contributed to the war's carnage. The next section focuses on the impact and careers of individual physicians (men and women, white and black). The expanded role of women in nursing is examined next, again with considerable focus on individual stories. External challenges to treating the war's mass casualties and innovations addressing those and others are the subject of the next chapter, which also credits the war's extensive documentation of medical information as invaluably benefiting future physician training and treatment of wounds and disease. Another section discusses how the war drove the evolution of hospitals. The final part of the book addresses how civilian volunteerism and organized humanitarian efforts (ex. Civil War sanitary fairs, ladies' aid societies, etc.) aided active, wounded, and recovering soldiers. That chapter also explores international connections that reverberate today in the form of the Geneva Convention's rules of war and the Red Cross.

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