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Diabetes is a disease with a fascinating history and one that has been growing dramatically with urbanization. According to the World Health Authority, it now affects 4.6% of adults over 20, reaching 30% in the over 35s in some populations. It is one of the most serious and widespread diseases today. But the general perception of diabetes is quite different. At the beginnin Diabetes is a disease with a fascinating history and one that has been growing dramatically with urbanization. According to the World Health Authority, it now affects 4.6% of adults over 20, reaching 30% in the over 35s in some populations. It is one of the most serious and widespread diseases today. But the general perception of diabetes is quite different. At the beginning of the 20th century, diabetes sufferers mostly tended to be middle-aged and overweight, and could live tolerably well with the disease for a couple of decades, but when it occasionally struck younger people, it could be fatal within a few months. The development of insulin in the early 1920s dramatically changed things for these younger patients. But that story of the success of modern medicine has tended to dominate public perception, so that diabetes is regarded as a relatively minor illness. Sadly, that is far from the case, and diabetes can produce complications affecting many different organs. Robert Tattersall, a leading authority on diabetes, describes the story of the disease from the ancient writings of Galen and Avicenna to the recognition of sugar in the urine of diabetics in the 18th century, the identification of pancreatic diabetes in 1889, the discovery of insulin in the early 20th century, the ensuing optimism, and the subsequent despair as the complexity of this now chronic illness among its increasing number of young patients became apparent. Yet new drugs are being developed, as well as new approaches to management that give hope for the future. Diabetes affects many of us directly or indirectly through friends and relatives. This book gives an authoritative and engaging account of the long history and changing perceptions of a disease that now dominates the concerns of health professionals in the developed world. Diabetes: the biography is part of the Oxford series, Biographies of Diseases, edited by William and Helen Bynum. In each individual volume an expert historian or clinician tells the story of a particular disease or condition throughout history - not only in terms of growing medical understanding of its nature and cure, but also shifting social and cultural attitudes, and changes in the meaning of the name of the disease itself.


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Diabetes is a disease with a fascinating history and one that has been growing dramatically with urbanization. According to the World Health Authority, it now affects 4.6% of adults over 20, reaching 30% in the over 35s in some populations. It is one of the most serious and widespread diseases today. But the general perception of diabetes is quite different. At the beginnin Diabetes is a disease with a fascinating history and one that has been growing dramatically with urbanization. According to the World Health Authority, it now affects 4.6% of adults over 20, reaching 30% in the over 35s in some populations. It is one of the most serious and widespread diseases today. But the general perception of diabetes is quite different. At the beginning of the 20th century, diabetes sufferers mostly tended to be middle-aged and overweight, and could live tolerably well with the disease for a couple of decades, but when it occasionally struck younger people, it could be fatal within a few months. The development of insulin in the early 1920s dramatically changed things for these younger patients. But that story of the success of modern medicine has tended to dominate public perception, so that diabetes is regarded as a relatively minor illness. Sadly, that is far from the case, and diabetes can produce complications affecting many different organs. Robert Tattersall, a leading authority on diabetes, describes the story of the disease from the ancient writings of Galen and Avicenna to the recognition of sugar in the urine of diabetics in the 18th century, the identification of pancreatic diabetes in 1889, the discovery of insulin in the early 20th century, the ensuing optimism, and the subsequent despair as the complexity of this now chronic illness among its increasing number of young patients became apparent. Yet new drugs are being developed, as well as new approaches to management that give hope for the future. Diabetes affects many of us directly or indirectly through friends and relatives. This book gives an authoritative and engaging account of the long history and changing perceptions of a disease that now dominates the concerns of health professionals in the developed world. Diabetes: the biography is part of the Oxford series, Biographies of Diseases, edited by William and Helen Bynum. In each individual volume an expert historian or clinician tells the story of a particular disease or condition throughout history - not only in terms of growing medical understanding of its nature and cure, but also shifting social and cultural attitudes, and changes in the meaning of the name of the disease itself.

30 review for Diabetes: The Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Linkous

    A bit technical and little challenging for someone like me who has little to no biology and physiology background. However, it helps me put my own diabetes in perspective and makes me incredibly thankful that I live in 2017 and not 1917. A great quote by Dr. Robert Saundby in the British Medical Journal in 1897 mainly on what we know to be type 2 diabetes: "diabetes is undoubtedly rare among people who lead a laborious life in the open air, while is prevails chiefly with those who spend most of t A bit technical and little challenging for someone like me who has little to no biology and physiology background. However, it helps me put my own diabetes in perspective and makes me incredibly thankful that I live in 2017 and not 1917. A great quote by Dr. Robert Saundby in the British Medical Journal in 1897 mainly on what we know to be type 2 diabetes: "diabetes is undoubtedly rare among people who lead a laborious life in the open air, while is prevails chiefly with those who spend most of their time in sedentary indoor occupations...there is no doubt that diabetes must be regarded as one of the penalties of advanced civilisation [sic]."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Dombrowski

    Fascinating and enlightening history of diabetes that balanced a vivid portrayal of the human experience of diabetes with a clear focus on the science. It's always interesting to be reminded that contemporary debates about diet ofteh have a surprisingly deep history on one hand, and that the scientifically sophisticated, evidence-based practice of medicine is a surprisingly recent development as well. The latter point also comes through in other recent 'biographical' approaches to disease & medi Fascinating and enlightening history of diabetes that balanced a vivid portrayal of the human experience of diabetes with a clear focus on the science. It's always interesting to be reminded that contemporary debates about diet ofteh have a surprisingly deep history on one hand, and that the scientifically sophisticated, evidence-based practice of medicine is a surprisingly recent development as well. The latter point also comes through in other recent 'biographical' approaches to disease & medical history, like Mukherjee's "Emperor of all Maladies." One small critique is that this book - like many other 'natural history of X' or 'cultural history of Y' books - is organized in a strictly chronological manner that at times obscures some of the major threads that run throughout the narrative. Some such thematic threads include the tension between dietary and pharmaceutical interventions, the interplay between lab studies and clinical application, the tensions and relationships between patients & doctors, and the often fierce controversies that raged among competing scientists and physicians. The relentless chronological pacing at times got in the way of the bigger picture, but overall, this was an excellent and very informative read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jc

    I love reading medical history and this the best I have read yet about diabetes. If you suffer from diabetes, then this is a must read for you.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Before I get to my review, a bit about me: I have had type 1 diabetes since 1998. I have a Ph.D. and wrote my dissertation using historical methods. I have a longstanding interest in the history of medicine and have read both Bliss’s The Discovery of Insulin and Feudtner’s Bittersweet: Diabetes, Insulin, and the Transformation of Illness. However, I have not read many biographies. So, if this book (and this series) is supposed to resemble “real” biographies (as is the intent), then more about th Before I get to my review, a bit about me: I have had type 1 diabetes since 1998. I have a Ph.D. and wrote my dissertation using historical methods. I have a longstanding interest in the history of medicine and have read both Bliss’s The Discovery of Insulin and Feudtner’s Bittersweet: Diabetes, Insulin, and the Transformation of Illness. However, I have not read many biographies. So, if this book (and this series) is supposed to resemble “real” biographies (as is the intent), then more about this book makes sense than might otherwise. Biographies are written for people who are already interested in the subject of the biography (be it a person, a disease, or whatever), and typically include a degree of detail that would “lose” someone who was not. That is definitely the case here. For example, Tattersall gives us a thorough tour of all the people who did NOT discover insulin or other viable (i.e., dietary) treatments for diabetes (but got close in one way or another). In another example, he describes the types of insulin that were ultimately developed, down to their molecular structures and actions. There were parts of all this that lost my interest or that I lacked the background to appreciate. So Tattersall has an embarrassment of detail on certain aspects of the historical and current diabetic experience. However--back to the point about biographies—-I don’t recommend that anyone read this who is not already familiar with diabetes, either by having it or knowing someone with it. The book only discusses in passing what it means to live with diabetes right now, in the 21st century, and a casual reader who picked it up might be forgiven for thinking that we all still have very short and terrible lives (per the cases he describes on pp. 6-7) and gangrenous feet (per the lovely photos on p. 29). Potential complications are discussed in great detail, but no sense is given of how many of us might expect to develop them and under what conditions (e.g., duration of illness, degree of control). No mention is made of the fact that these days, our life expectancies are approaching those of people without diabetes. Tattersall is British. This doesn’t become overtly apparent too often, except when he mentions how much test strips cost the National Health Service, but I do wonder if that partly explains the whole tenor of the book. If an American had written it, there’d probably be a whole chapter on promising technological treatments and cures (e.g., Tattersall barely mentions continuous glucose monitors, which admittedly were just coming on the scene when the book was published), with many claims that a cure was “right around the corner,” and great emphasis on how treatment had improved for people with diabetes in recent decades. Instead, one gets the sense that life with diabetes has not changed overmuch over the past half-century, and that it is a disease whose ideal management continues to stymie doctors and patients alike. Which may well be true—-but this American likes to hope it’s not. :)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Yes, I just read a book on Diabetes. What?! While I am not personally diabetic, I am still touched by the disease. It is a part of my life in the peripheral sense that I have multiple friends who live with it. My dear old cat is also diabetic, as it so happens. The result of the latter is that I must inject my cat twice-daily with insulin. The result of the former AND the latter is that I have developed an interest in knowing more about it. This book was well written. It was an in-depth introduc Yes, I just read a book on Diabetes. What?! While I am not personally diabetic, I am still touched by the disease. It is a part of my life in the peripheral sense that I have multiple friends who live with it. My dear old cat is also diabetic, as it so happens. The result of the latter is that I must inject my cat twice-daily with insulin. The result of the former AND the latter is that I have developed an interest in knowing more about it. This book was well written. It was an in-depth introduction to Diabetes via history. And I liked that it maintains an academic tone that is smart but still approachable to somebody (like me) who has not taken advanced science courses. All that said, I have 2 final things to add: 1. I admit here and now that I skimmed through a few bits. 2. The book does not attempt to answer a question I know is surely highly subjective, but that I think I am not alone as a non-diabetic in having: What is it like having diabetes? What does it feel like?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nazima Nasrullah

    Reading this book, I realized diabetes is dreadful disease which kills its victim slowly, if left unchecked. A well written book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Usfromdk

    This book is awesome. This is simply a wonderful account of the history of diabetes. Highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jose M.

  9. 4 out of 5

    ANDREW J GURR

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gareth Murphy

  11. 5 out of 5

    Haichen Zhang

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nilla Nova

  13. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gmeeoorh

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jon Keen

  18. 4 out of 5

    Melloryl

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Countchaos666

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erik Dryden

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emanuel Landeholm

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bayan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Beurer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Sincinito

  28. 4 out of 5

    Holly

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jon Keen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anthony McGuckin

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