A Disease Apart: Leprosy in the Modern World (Hardcover)

Leprosy in the Modern World

By Tony Gould

St. Martin's Press, 9780312305024, 432pp.

Publication Date: August 25, 2005



This fascinating cultural and medical history of leprosy enriches our understanding of a still-feared biblical disease.

It is a condition shrouded for centuries in mystery, legend, and religious fanaticism. Societies the world over have vilified its sufferers: by the sheer accident of mycobacterial infection, they have been condemned to exile and imprisonment—illness itself considered evidence of moral taint.

Over the last 200 years, the story of leprosy has witnessed dramatic reversals in terms of both scientific theory and public opinion. In A DISEASE APART, Tony Gould traces the history of this compelling period through the lives of individual men and women: intrepid doctors, researchers, and missionaries, and a vast spectrum of patients.

We meet such pioneers of treatment as the Norwegian microbe hunter, Armauer Hansen. Though Hansen discovered the leprosy bacillus in l873, the 'heredity vs. contagion' debate raged on for decades. Meanwhile, across the world, Belgian Catholic missionary Father Damien became an international celebrity tending to his stricken flock at the Hawaiian settlement of Molokai. He contracted the disease himself. To the British, leprosy posed an "imperial danger" to their sprawling colonial system. In the l920s Sir Leonard Rogers of the Indian Medical Service found that the ancient Hindu treatment of chaulmoogra oil could be used in an injectable form.

The Cajun bayou saw the inspiring rise of leprosy’s most zealous campaigner of all: a patient. At Carville, Louisiana, a Jewish Texan pharmacist named Stanley Stein was transformed by leprosy into an eloquent editor and writer. He ultimately became a thorn in the side of the U.S. Public Heath Department and a close friend of Tallulah Bankhead.

The personalities met on this journey are remarkable and their stories unfold against the backgrounds of Norway, Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Nigeria, Nepal and Louisiana. Although since the l950s drugs treatments have been able to cure cases caught early—and arrest advanced cases—leprosy remains a subject mired in ignorance.

In this superb and enlightened book, Tony Gould throws light into the shadows.

About the Author

TONY GOULD served in the British military, then studied English at Cambridge. He has worked as a BBC radio producer and as literary editor of "New Society" and the "New Statesman. "His books include "A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors" and "Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes," winner of the 1984 PEN Silver Pen award.

Praise For A Disease Apart: Leprosy in the Modern World

‘Tony Gould’s book sheds light on this most maligned and misunderstood of diseases” –Financial Times

“Absorbing and even inspiring . . .thought-provoking and moving. [A Disease Apart] deserves the widest possible circulation among doctors and laymen alike” –Spectator

“Tony Gould’s new study, beautifully written and constructed with craftsmanlike care, presents the people and the arguments of the past two centuries in sharp relief” –New Statesman

‘The history of leprosy, as Tony Gould makes clear in his exhaustive book, is in many ways the history of man’s inhumanity to man … Missionaries often proved the most enlightened, humane leprosy workers, and to these Gould pays full and colorful tribute” –Daily Telegraph

“[An] excellent book . . . Writing in a lively, engaging style capable of encompassing the intricacies of medical politics, [Gould] gives a real sense of what it meant to be a patient with leprosy well into the twentieth century.” –Guardian

“Compelling … his main subject was not so much the disease but an extended meditation on human goodness … it is a most uplifting story beautifully told” –Sunday Telegraph