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Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes [Paperback]

Gregg Mitman

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Book Description

Aug. 5 2008
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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (Aug. 5 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030014315X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300143157
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #760,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Mitman directs steely, twenth-twenty insight at popular misapprehensions, past and present, of the causes and cures of allergies, hay fever and asthma, in particular. He notes that in the latter nineteenth century, Americans considered hay fever a curse exclusive to white, upper-class males. They knew this because these "hay feverites" were the only persons who took lengthy, annual "hay fever holidays" at tony resorts in the White Mountains and on Mackinac Island. It was later recognized that allergies afflict poor, nonwhite populations with equal and sometimes greater ferocity. When asthma sufferers sought the healthy clime of Tucson, they imported Bermuda grass, evergreens, and sumac trees, to say nothing of industrial pollution and traffic congestion. Not surprisingly, allergy symptoms reprised. Chemical warfare brought its own problems when hay fever proliferated despite widespread, government-mandated herbicidal assaults on ragweed, and chemicals used to deliver breath-saving drugs were proven to be damaging to the ecology. Full of the wisdom of lessons learned as well as of noted authorities, Mitman's thoughtful presentation is nothing to sneeze at. Chavez, Donna
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Allery and Asthma treatments 1800-present July 13 2008
By Techie Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book gave me an appreciation for all of the knowledge that has been accumulated from the 1800s to the present on coping and treating allergies and asthma.

The book describes the late 1800s and early 1900s when fortunate allergy sufferers could travel to various locations during pollen season to escape the "hay fever" curse that visited them each year.

The book covers:

History and background of the treatment of allergies using "allergy shots" in the early 1900s.

The benefit of air conditioning had for those fortunate enough to have it in the 1920s and 1930s.

Correlations between "cockroaches" and asthma occurance, and "dust mite" feces and allergy occurance in sensitive individuals. Discusses how these links were found by various studies.

The introduction of pollen/dust air filters to treat patients who were unable to afford air conditioning.

The introduction of antihistimines and inhalers for the treatment of allergies and asthma. The developent of dramamine to treat "sea sickness" and how it was derived from allergy/asthma medicines.

As an allergy sufferer, I appreciated learning more about the history of allergy/asthma treatment. This book should be of interest to anyone suffering from allergies or asthma to give them an appreciation of how far we have come in the treatment of these conditions.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Bless You, America: A Gesundheit to Change the Land Nov. 28 2007
By L. Bernacchi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"A low-grade headache, right at the line of my eyes. And a scratchy throat." I whine to my mother on the other end of the line. Throughout Gregg Mitman's Breathing Space: How allergies shape our lives and landscapes, I scoffed the physical weakness of hay fever suffering elitists turned scientists or entrepreneurs or druggists. That is, until today when I was reminded of my own allergy to the mitigated air quality of my town, which is not unlike any other town in the United States: it borders a more "wild" area, is gridded with Bermuda and Kentucky grasses, and finds financial support in a sundry of industries. This town has housing projects and climate-controlled offices and immigrants, both herb and hominid, all ordinary places and spaces and people which Mitman unveils as somehow marginalized by a drive to eradicate that which ails us: allergens.

Though he blows plot secrets in the introduction, Mitman's surprises are in his prose and humor, despite the high stakes: that the "increased technological optimism [made] Americans confident in their ability to rid the landscape of allergy" also enabled the population to believe and to consume as if they could create a pristine, non-combative interior landscape, both in their homes and within the bounds of the body (7). These major themes are best played out in the chapters "On the Home Front," a history of the innovations to cleanse our personal and private spaces, "Choking Cities," a stab at the hypocrisy of American indifference to their own inner-city citizens' suffering while sending children from all over the world to high-cost, remote "scratch test centers," both bastions of relief and experiment. Though the theme of environmental justice runs like a nose throughout the book, beginning with a hilarious anecdote on a chain-wielding Mr. T, he takes a stronger critical look at the governmental institutions that enabled the architecture and bureaucracy of interior allergy than other texts in the field.

Mitman's ability to synthesize not only the complex political, economic, and social climates but the history of medicine and technology make this text useful for pre-med and post-medicated people alike. An undergraduate course might find specific chapters useful for grounding what is now the post-modern perspective: there is no outside. As an ecology student, I longed for more extensive histories on plants, production, and a kind of Pollanesque perspective, as well as denser chemical discussion in lieu of drawn out stories of obscure poets sniffling. Also, the rhetorical links of ragweed, also called "river-rat" and "slum dweller," to less-desirable human populations, as Peter Coates has made opaque, seemed under utilized (55). Still, Mitman's collection of images, affection for irony and overwhelming knowledge of medicine legitimate this book as a supporter of what is most important: "the evolving relationship of body and place" (250).

So change your AC filters, pop a non-drowsy Claritin (though you won't need the pseudoephedrine) and settle into your microbial, pollen, lice, mite, cockroach, dander, mystery-free world for a read that will have you wondering if it is even possible.
1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where Are All the Flowers? April 5 2008
By Betty Burks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This "history" of allergies in America tries to put the blamd on a changing environment, notably physical and biological. There are pockets of air pollution hanging over parts of the countryside and towns. At the foot of the Smoky Mountains, a thick layer of pollution hangs over the town until the sun finally filters through about noon. More people are finding they're allergic to "something else" and aging brings on more allergies to medicines and food. My worst is pest control chemicals, even those with no odors, with strong smells almost as bad.

Greg Mitman's specialty in this field is history of science studies, which includes environmental, cultural, and medical advances for allergic diseases. From sinus infections to throad down to the feet, and nasal congestion, allergies can be effectively controlled by drugs like Singulair, Zertec, Allegra, and many others. There is no satisfactory breathing space at times like Spring pollen and certain wild flowers in the Fall. We can't always avoid outdoor living with the worst pollution, but we can control indoor pollutants.

We need breathing space from all kinds of pests at the best of times. In this informative book, you learn ways to prevent being a victum of circumstances. Many migrated to the Western states in search for better air to breathe, searching for a fountain of health which collapsed in the sand.

Some asthma suffers relocated to Arizona and Colorado where the outdoor air was cleaner and has polutted during the 1950s and '60s only to find pollution followed them there en mass. The promised land for t.b. patients became a prison-like atmosphre. Frank Lloyd Wright donated enough money to build a hospital near Tucson whre is most famous "home" was built, incorporating nature into the design.

Eddie Cantor and other movie celebrities, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, t.V. performers Steve Allen and the Lennon Sisters, promoted the March of Dimes. Other sites across the country from Michigan to Denver, CO. were sought out for pure air. Thanks to industry and TVA using coal fuel, every spot in America is now polluted. Air conditioning which was started in U.S. movie theaters flourished as short retreats and still do for the less -wealthy. Go to the movies to see 'Leatherheads.'
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allegies and politics May 18 2009
By Journeyman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are interested in a "populist" view op politics, you may enjoy this book. If you are interested in allergies, not so much.

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