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No Magic Bullet

A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880- 35th Anniversary Edition

Allan M. Brandt

Publication Date - 13 July 2020

ISBN: 9780190863425

344 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


From Victorian anxieties about syphilis to the current hysteria over herpes and AIDS, the history of venereal disease in America forces us to examine social attitudes as well as purely medical concerns. In No Magic Bullet, Allan M. Brandt recounts the various medical, military, and public health responses that have arisen over the years--a broad spectrum that ranges from the incarceration of prostitutes during World War I to the establishment of required premarital blood tests.

Brandt demonstrates that Americans' concerns about venereal disease have centered around a set of social and cultural values related to sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and class. At the heart of our efforts to combat these infections, he argues, has been the tendency to view venereal disease as both a punishment for sexual misconduct and an index of social decay. This tension between medical and moral approaches has significantly impeded efforts to develop "magic bullets"--drugs that would rid us of the disease--as well as effective policies for controlling the infections' spread.

In this 35th anniversary edition of No Magic Bullet, Brandt reflects on recent scholarship, the persistence of sexually transmitted diseases, and the trajectory of the HIV epidemic, as they have informed contemporary conceptions of biomedicine and global health.

New to this Edition

  • Features a new afterword by the author


  • The classic social history of venereal diseases, spanning the late 19th century to the present.
  • Written by the award-winning author of The Cigarette Century.
  • This 35th anniversary edition includes a new afterword by the Bancroft Prize-winning author.

About the Author(s)

Allan M. Brandt is Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine and Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the prize-winning author of The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America.


"A welcome addition to the growing literature related to sex in American history....It is a major contribution to both medical and social history."--David J. Pivar, American Historical Review

"Brandt bases his case on a well-documented analysis of public policy concerning venereal diseases during the last one hundred years....No Magic Bullet deserves a broad audience."--James Reed, Journal of American History

"Brandt has served up an analytical feast....No Magic Bullet may remain the definitive social history of [venereal disease] for many years to come."--Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"A significant contribution to our understanding of public responses to STDs in the United States....Useful and timely."--Arthur R. Williams, University of Florida

"An audacious examination of American attitudes toward sexually transmitted disease...A chilling reminder of a forgotten history."--The Village Voice

"An excellent short treatment of venereal disease in this country. It is clearly written and with the addition of the chapter on AIDS, most appropriate and updated."--William A. Sodeman, Jr., M.D., University of Southern Florida, Tampa

"A thoroughly researched...intriguing book...Brandt argues persuasively that many of the underlying attitudes of the Victorian period continue to hinder the control of venereal diseases."--Philadelphia Inquirer

"A subtle and convincing book...[A]n eloquent chapter in the history of sex in America."--Psychology Today

"Well-researched, accurate, and clearly written...This historical perspective has much to offer readers in the fields of public health and infectious disease at a time when important policy decisions regarding the control of AIDS must be made."--New England Journal of Medicine

"A major contribution to the social history of medicine and public policy in the United States."--Isis

"An excellent overview of the venereal disease problem in America."--David P. Adams, University of Florida

"An important book for all who are concerned with epidemiological issues in general and a necessary book for those concerned with sexually transmitted diseases."--Warren Winkelstein, Jr., University of California, Berkeley

"This book inspired the liveliest discussion we've had in the whold course."--Jonathan Sakowsky, Case Western Reserve University

"A seminal work in both U.S. social history and the history of medicine. I intend to use it in this course [Bodies, Disease, and Politics in Modern Society] and in future courses."--David S. Barnes, Emory University

"I am using this book to help my students to understand the social and cultural backgrounds of health movements in historical perspective."--Peretz Hirshbein, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

    Introduction: Sex, Disease, and Medicine
    I. "Damaged Goods": Progressive Medicine and Social Hygiene
    II. "Fit to Fight": The Commission on Training Camp Activities
    III. "The Cleanest Army in the World": Venereal Disease and the AEF
    IV. "Shadow on the Land": Thomas Parran and the New Deal
    V. Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet: Venereal Disease in the Age of Antibiotics
    VI. "Plagues and Peoples": The AIDS Epidemic
    Afterword to 35th Anniversary Edition
    Note on Sources
    Manuscript Sources

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