- Die Cholera in Medizin und Pharmazie: Im Zeitalter des Hygienikers Max von Pettenkofer
Jahn’s book is a collection of diverse materials concerning nineteenth-century cholera epidemics in Germany and the work of Max von Pettenkofer (1818–1901). The themes are related in that Pettenkofer, a hygienist and biochemist, resisted Robert Koch’s bacterial account of cholera and advocated a particular miasmatic concept of the disease.
In the first quarter of the book, Jahn reviews the secondary literature, early-nineteenth-century beliefs about cholera, and Pettenkofer’s own opinions about the disease. The second quarter contains previously unpublished scientific correspondence between Pettenkofer and various contemporaries (including three letters from Koch to Pettenkofer). In the third quarter, Jahn lists and discusses several nineteenth-century therapeutic and prophylactic measures against cholera. The last portion of the book contains two hitherto-unpublished accounts by a Hamburg clinical physician of events during the 1831 cholera epidemic, select bibliographies of essays on cholera from the medical literature of 1831 and of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and lists of European libraries that currently possess Pettenkofer’s correspondence. The book also includes a bibliography, an index, and numerous illustrations.
Jahn’s goal is to make available new materials to enhance our understanding of the nineteenth-century response to cholera, and to revive interest in Pettenkofer’s work. Her view is that Pettenkofer’s commitment to public and private hygiene and his criticisms of pure bacteriology were partially vindicated when, in 1893/94, bacteriologists found cholera bacteria in the Hamburg public water supply, thereby confirming the significance of public hygienic measures.
No doubt Pettenkofer deserves more attention than he has yet received, and, of course, the publication of new primary materials is always welcome. However, a problem with this book is the diversity of its contents. Most of the materials will be of use only to persons with specialized interests, and it is difficult to imagine that any such person will be interested in more than a few of the amazingly diverse items here included. On the other hand, Jahn does an excellent job of presenting and explaining her new materials, and her explanations provide coherence to the overall effort. For those interested in the great cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century, Jahn’s book is definitely worth examining.