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Breathing Space

Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Breathing Space
    Book Description:

    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 Spaceoffers 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13832-0
    Subjects: General Science, Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The scream of chain saws gnawing through full-grown oak trees abruptly announced the start of summer in 1987 in the leafy enclave of Lake Forest on the Lake Michigan shore north of Chicago. Most residents treasured the trees that shaded their mansions, but Mr. T wasn’t like most of his neighbors. Laurence Tureaud, known to most Americans as Mr. T, star of the 1980s hit TV showThe A-Teamand Rocky’s nemesis inRocky III,had moved into the exclusive, historic neighborhood the previous fall, when the hundreds of oaks and other native plantings at Two Gables, his seven-acre estate,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Hay Fever Holiday
    (pp. 10-51)

    August was Edwin Atkins’s least favorite time of year; it was when his annual debilitating cold always appeared. But in the summer of 1869, when he was nineteen years old, the young Mr. Atkins tried something different. Some years earlier, Edwin’s father, Elisha, had built a summer estate ten miles outside Boston in the newly fashionable suburb of Belmont, far removed from the stresses of city life and the mental strain of the family’s thriving merchant business in the Cuban sugar and molasses trade. But the house on Wellington Hill, overlooking the nearby orchards and farms, offered Edwin little relief...

  6. CHAPTER 2 When Pollen Became Poison
    (pp. 52-88)

    Immunology, the scientific study of the body’s immune system, was a fledgling science in the early 1900s, but it had already yielded great promise in the prevention and cure of some of the most deadly epidemic diseases threatening public health. In the closing decade of the nineteenth century, vaccines and antitoxins against anthrax, rabies, diphtheria, and tetanus came out one after another. Leading research laboratories around the world, including the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Robert Koch’s Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin, were the sources of these great advances. In the United States, drug companies and laboratories, as yet...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Last Resorts
    (pp. 89-129)

    June Hewitt had come to dread the weekly eight-mile drive south from her Arizona ranch in Sulphur Springs Valley, east of the Mule Mountains, to Douglas, a town of twelve thousand residents just north of the Mexican border. She would have gone less often, but her truck could haul only a week’s worth of feed for her horses and other ranch animals. Every time she drove past the sprawling, eighty-year-old Phelps Dodge copper smelter complex, around which Douglas was built, she felt a rawness in her throat. She knew an asthma attack would soon follow.¹

    Hewitt had suffered few health...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Choking Cities
    (pp. 130-166)

    On 7 July 1961, a forty-six-pound, malnourished twelve-year-old boy from a Rio de Janeirofavela—or slum—stepped off a plane in Denver, hoping to escape the shackles of poverty and longing for a life free from the struggle to breathe. It was just one week after photojournalist Gordon Parks’s exposé of life among Latin America’s urban poor had appeared inLifemagazine. Flavio da Silva had been living with his family in Catacumba, one of the many squatter settlements of Rio. The family had fled the rural poverty of northeastern Brazil in search of a better life but had...

  9. CHAPTER 5 On the Home Front
    (pp. 167-205)

    When Charles Davies graduated from the School of Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1917, the indoor environment offered a new frontier of research and development for a freshly minted engineer. Technological advances in heating, cooling, and ventilation promised modern comfort in the home and office. Enterprising firms like Carrier Engineering Corporation were selling man-made weather for factories, office buildings, movie theaters, and department stores as America moved into the prosperous 1920s. So Davies set off for New York City, where skyscrapers soared into the sky and became symbols of the technological prowess and bold confidence...

  10. CHAPTER 6 An Inhaler in Every Pocket
    (pp. 206-250)

    Each morning my grade-school-age son, Keefe, and I share in what is a common ritual for millions of people in the United States. As consumers of allergy drugs, Keefe and I reach every day into the medicine cabinet for our respective remedies. Each drug we take promises, in one way or another, to alter the complex immune system relationships within our bodies so that we might never mind the outside environmental connections within the world in which we live. “One tiny blue pill,” claims a 2002 ad for the antihistamine Clarinex, offers twenty-four-hour seasonal allergy relief, “wherever you are, whatever...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 251-254)

    In 1969, at the twenty-fifth anniversary meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, René Dubos stepped up to the platform to give the Robert A. Cooke Memorial Lecture. The speaker, who would become best known for coining the phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally,” seemed an odd choice to deliver the academy’s most esteemed lecture. Dubos was neither a trained physician nor a leading immunologist. In fact, never in his professional career as a microbiologist at Rockefeller University had Dubos published an article on the subject of allergy. Heralded for his isolation of germ-fighting drugs produced by soil microbes—a discovery...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 255-296)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 297-312)