Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

The Pox: The Life and Near Death of a Very Social Disease

pox cover

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Sutton Publishing (21 Sep 2006)

 ISBN-10: 0750940417

 ISBN-13: 978-0750940412

From almost the time when man first discovered the pleasures of sin, he has also experienced the torments of the Pox. This book uncovers the unwholesome history of syphilis and gonorrhoea, and their treatment, from the Renaissance to the antibiotic age. Gonorrhoea had been known since antiquity in Western Europe, but syphilis first made an impact in 1494 when the “Great Pox” reached epidemic proportions. Mercury remained the most effective cure until the twentieth century, but the treatment was so unpleasant that quack ‘cures’ abounded. Well-known syphilitics included Pope Alexander VI, Ivan the Terrible, Randolph Churchill, Al Capone and possibly Hitler. During the First and Second World Wars, VD was almost a greater cause of illness among soldiers than wounds. Its prevalence made it a major public health issue, yet many of the approaches to it were penal and reformatory in nature rather than medical. Kevin Brown draws on references from art and literature, stories of famous sufferers and medical documents to compile this fascinating history of these diseases, which were seen as much as a social and moral problem as a medical one.

About the Author


Kevin Brown has been Trust Archivist and Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum Curator, at St Mary’s NHS Trust, Paddington since 1989. He set up the archive service at the hospital and established the Museum in 1993. He is chairman of the London  Museums of Health and Medicine, and the author of Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution.


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