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The Disease of Discovery
Jonathan Lamb

Hardcover | 2016 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691147826
328 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 27 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884544 |
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A Q&A with Jonathan Lamb

Scurvy, a disease often associated with long stretches of maritime travel, generated sensations exceeding the standard of what was normal. Eyes dazzled, skin was morbidly sensitive, emotions veered between disgust and delight. In this book, Jonathan Lamb presents an intellectual history of scurvy unlike any other, probing the speechless encounter with powerful sensations to tell the story of the disease that its victims couldn't because they found their illness too terrible and, in some cases, too exciting.

Drawing on historical accounts from scientists and voyagers as well as major literary works, Lamb traces the cultural impact of scurvy during the eighteenth-century age of geographical and scientific discovery. He explains the medical knowledge surrounding scurvy and the debates about its cause, prevention, and attempted cures. He vividly describes the phenomenon and experience of "scorbutic nostalgia," in which victims imagined mirages of food, water, or home, and then wept when such pleasures proved impossible to consume or reach. Lamb argues that a culture of scurvy arose in the colony of Australia, which was prey to the disease in its early years, and identifies a literature of scurvy in the works of such figures as Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Francis Bacon, and Jonathan Swift.

Masterful and illuminating, Scurvy shows how the journeys of discovery in the eighteenth century not only ventured outward to the ends of the earth, but were also an inward voyage into the realms of sensation and passion.

Jonathan Lamb is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. His many books include The Things Things Say (Princeton) and The Evolution of Sympathy in the Long Eighteenth Century.


"Lamb’s work is a virtuoso set of variations around his theme. . . . If readers take Lamb on his own terms, and appreciate his wide-ranging approach, they will find much of interest."--Anne Crowther, Times Literary Supplement

"In Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery, Jonathan Lamb, a professor at Vanderbilt University, shows . . . that scurvy was a much stranger condition than we imagine, with effects on the mind that neuroscience is only now beginning to elucidate. The result is a book that renders a familiar subject as exotic and uncanny as the tropical shores that confronted sailors in the grip of scurvy's delirium."--Mike Jay, Wall Street Journal

"Expertly researched and richly written, Lamb's study tracks the links in [scurvy] sufferers' unusual symptoms--heightened senses, cravings, and emotions that became known as ‘scorbutic nostalgia,' as well as a ghastly physical breakdown--through naval logs, physicians' journals, and literature. . . . Lamb's rigorously scholastic and elegantly lyrical account should intrigue both historians and literary critics."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Deeply informed by the history and literature of seafaring, Lamb's book provides valuable insights into the workings of science that can even guide our expectations about research today."--Jonathon Keats, New Scientist

"A sweeping and often surprising academic survey that roams through the art, philosophy and literature of the Age of Exploration."--Peter Moore, Literary Review

More reviews

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xiii
Prolegomena 1
1. Enigma 27
2. Effluvia 64
3. Nostalgia 109
4. Australia 153
5. Genera Mixta 217
Coda 268
Bibliography 279
Index 299

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