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Bathsheba's Breast


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Table of Contents

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsPrologue: Across Time1. Dark Ages2. "Unkindest Cut of All": The Origins of the Mastectomy3. William Stewart Halsted and the Radical Mastectomy4. Superradicals and the Medicine of Mutilation5. New Beginnings: Assault on the Radical Mastectomy6. Beauty and the Breast: The Great American Obsession7. Out of the Closet: Breast Cancer in the 1970s8. Patient Heal Thyself: Quacks and Cures in the Age of Narcissism9. Choices: Medical Treatment in the Age of Liberation10. The Breast Cancer Wars11. Biology, Society, and DestinyEpilogue: The New MillenniumNotesIndex

Promotional Information

The stories of women throughout the ages who have confronted breast cancer, from ancient times to the present.

About the Author

James S. Olson is Distinguished Professor and Chair of the history department at Sam Houston State University. He is co-author (with Randy Roberts) of both Winning Is the Only Thing: Sports in America since 1945, available from Johns Hopkins, and John Wayne: American.


A well-written, accessible account of the history of breast cancer from ancient times to today... Olson simultaneously presents a history of breast cancer, culture, and science. His multi-layered analysis of the history of breast cancer is most striking when he demonstrates the differing attitudes toward therapy that American and European medical practitioners hold; and how the development of medicine in different areas of the globe affects the way breast cancer is treated... Overall, Olson's book is a satisfying examination of the history of breast cancer. It would be a welcome addition to a course dedicated to the history of medicine, the history of women in medicine, or gender history. -- Karol K. Weaver H-Women, H-Net Reviews An engaging historical survey of the interplay between the science of breast cancer and the wider culture of which it is a part. -- Richard Horton Times Literary Supplement An engrossing history... This book is definitely a thought-provoking read and reminds us that some diseases and their physical and emotional trauma transcend time. -- Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Family Tree Magazine An invaluable aid to those breast cancer survivors with an interest in taking the long view of their illness... Today's cancer research offers plenty of hope to all those courageous people on the journey initiated by their diagnosis, and Bathsheba's Breast is an important traveling companion whose most promising chapters have yet to be written. -- Nick Owchar Los Angeles Times Historian James S. Olson provides us with an extremely interesting and often terrifying history of breast cancer through the ages... An excellent, moving and informative read. CancerFutures In elegant, captivating prose, Bathsheba's Breast brings to life dramatic tales to illustrate the history of breast cancer treatment... The historical detail and absorbing storytelling appeal equally to scholarly and general audiences. -- Paula Viterbo History: Reviews of New Books James Olson's compelling book suggests that breast cancer is one of history's oldest diseases. From Queen Atossa of Persia, daughter of Cyrus, consort of Darius, mother of Xerxes, to Dr. Jerri Nielsen, isolated from medical help in Antarctica, who self-diagnosed and self-treated her cancer, he tells stories of the sufferers, their doctors and their treatments... It is impossible to read this book without being moved-by pity, horror, awe and respect at the suffering of ordinary women whose normal lives were cut short by abnormal malignancy; by anger at the longevity of some of the barbaric treatments and the dismissive arrogance of mutilating surgeons; but finally by hope that molecular biology, genetic counselling, and pharmaceutical innovation will produce if not a cure, then techniques to transform the disease from an acute killer into a treatable, chronic malaise. -- Tilli Tansey History Today James S. Olson has taken on the task of recounting the entire history of breast cancer-from Queen Atossa, who lived in Babylon in 490 B.C., to Dr. Jerri Nielsen, who was trapped in Antarctica in 1999-and has done it in a concise, attractive, enjoyable book. -- Susan Lester New England Journal of Medicine Provides a fascinating view of the ways in which culture, politics, and science interact... A lucid account of an ongoing war on a changing battlefield with at least the hope of new weapons. Kirkus Reviews Provides a most readable survey contrasting past and present options for breast cancer treatment. Library Bookwatch Utilizing accounts of the experiences of well-known historical figures from Anne of Austria to Linda McCartney, the author weaves a story important to every woman who fears breast cancer and to all those who care about her. An excellent, thought-provoking reference for lay audiences as well as health care professionals. Choice In sum, Bathsheba's Breast does an admirable job of summarizing the history of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. -- Barron H. Lerner Bulletin of the History of Medicine Olsen embarks on the complicated, current history of the multiple choices for the treatment of breast cancer since 1970... the inclusion of individual stories makes the debates very real and the outcomes not always positive. -- Mary Tarbox, EdD, RN Nursing History Review Olson... has written a book that is part history, packed with fascinating details about important figures from ancient times to the present, and part history of medicine... beyond all that, the author-who lost an arm to a recurring cancer and last year was diagnosed with brain cancer-bares his own humility. -- Marina Pisano San Antonio Express-News Honesty and empathy make the book worthwhile for lay and professional readers alike. -- Jessica B. Mandell Journal of Clinical Investigation [Olson's] honesty and empathy make the book worthwhile for lay and professional readers alike. Journal of Clinical Investigation

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