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Health, Civilization and the State: A History of Public Health From Ancient to Modern Times

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 17 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1083
  1. Johan P Mackenbach, professor
  1. Department of Public Health, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

    Dorothy Porter

    Routledge, £16.99, pp 376

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    ISBN 0 415 20036 9

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    How boring is the history of public health? As Dorothy Porter notes in her introduction, the subject tends to provoke a big yawn, both from students, who are bored by accounts of bureaucratic and technological reforms, and from historians, who are bored by the usual grand narrative of progress. Because historians don't write these histories any longer, George Rosen's A History of Public Health, originally published in 1958, is still widely used and recently reappeared in an updated and expanded version.

    But here we are, faced with a new history of public health “from ancient to modern times” written by a modern historian. Porter acknowledges the “contemporary intellectual climate of postmodernist relativism” and apologises for …

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