From Publishers Weekly
Were Abraham and Mary Lincoln's well-known health problems symptoms of syphilis? Was Adolf Hitler's final descent into madness due to an early syphilitic infection acquired from a prostitute? Did James Joyce make hidden allusions to his own infection in works like Ulysses? According to Hayden, a California-based scholar and marketing executive, scholars and medical professionals have too often overlooked the evidence of "pox," or syphilis-often called the "Great Imitator" because its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases-in the biographies of historical figures. Few would argue that some of Hayden's subjects, like Flaubert and Karen Blixen (subject of the movie Out of Africa), suffered from the disease. Her arguments for others, like the Lincolns and Beethoven, are sure to provoke debate. Hayden pulls together fascinating medical histories for figures like President Lincoln and Hitler, but with Mary Lincoln in particular her background documentation seems spotty. She overlooks Mary's vigorous, and very sane, campaign to be released from the mental institution that her son Robert had her committed to. Hayden suffers from an unfortunate tendency to romanticize the final stages of syphilis: she claims repeatedly that artists attain some sort of mystical breakthrough in their art when they're on the verge of paralytic collapse, an assertion straight out of Thomas Mann and other early 20th-century writers. The sprawling chapter on Hitler is the climax of the book but suffers from poor organization and loose writing. Readers will be divided on whether or not they are convinced by Hayden's arguments, but with the reemergence of syphilis in many urban populations, the subject is sure to attract attention.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
More than 500 years after the great European-American encounter, scholars still debate whether syphilis was America's thank-you to Europe, especially for Christopher Columbus. Hayden presents an exhaustively researched case for syphilis taking its maiden voyage to Europe "aboard" Columbus' crew. Thus launched, pox, as it was called, so took Europe by storm that by the nineteenth century, according to some estimates, more than 15 percent of European men were infected. Of the wide variety of "cures," many, including mercury, were arguably worse than the disease. Until penicillin in the late 1940s, none actually cured it. After a tour through syphilis' grisly history, Hayden presents case studies of various nineteenth- and twentieth-century luminaries rumored to have been syphilitic. The well-documented accounts allow readers to draw their own conclusions about men as diverse as Beethoven, Flaubert, Lincoln, and Hitler. There aren't many books about syphilis, and aside from those about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, few are more interesting. An if-you-read-one-book-about kind of book. Donna ChavezCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved