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Review: The Treatment

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Martha Stephens’ “The Treatment”

This is a difficult book for me to review for many reasons. I grew up in and around Cincinnati. Cincinnati history was the topic of my capstone paper for my BA in history a few years ago. A class on medical history by a great professor at Miami University hooked me on the topic. After graduation I took to researching Cincinnati’s Dr. Daniel Drake, 1785-1852. I read everything I could to learn about the state of medicine and how it advanced during his life of practicing and teaching medicine. There were a few histories I only read the parts that covered up to the end of his life but there were some that really grabbed my interest that I read cover to cover. Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” was one of those. That is where I first heard about the Department of Defense funded radiation experiments performed in Cincinnati University Hospital from 1960 until 1972 and where I first heard of Martha Stephen’s book “The Treatment: the story of those who died in the Cincinnati radiation experiments”. It took many months for me to put my hands on a copy and I grew more eager to read it as more time passed.

I was only a few dozen pages into the book before I turned to the appendix listing all the research subjects, my grandmother had died quickly of cancer in 1973. I was happy to see that her name was not among the human guinea pigs selected for “treatment”. The author, Martha Stephens, was involved in much of the fight to expose the radiation program to the public, first as a member of the Junior Faculty Association that brought the program to the attention of the entire University of Cincinnati, not simply a few members of the medical school. (By the way, I have to point out that both the university and the medical school were founded by Dr. Daniel Drake.) Later she worked with the families of the research subjects, helping find them and helping them publicize their lawsuit. Because she was involved in the events some of the book reads like a memoir and the more she talked about herself the more I began to understand that she had been my English professor at UC’s Evening College back in the late 1970s. That, I think, is a full disclosure of my biases over this book. I feel very connected to the story, in some small way I am. I was over eager to read the book. I feel a little protective of Dr. Drake’s school and hospital and, although my degree is from Miami University nearly half my credits were from UC.

I really expected to like this book. That could play into my disappointment with it. Professor Stephens teaches English, not history. The book is disorganized and at times is more of a memoir, covering events unconnected to the subject of the work, than anything else. One of the most blatant offenses to what historical training I have was when she put words into the victims attorney at the start of the hearings. Yes, she pointed out that the speech was what she wanted him to say but I was expecting a work of history, not a fantasy on what should have happened in the eyes of the, non-lawyer, author.

Stephens also falls into the trap that makes so much scholarly writing unintelligible, writing to prove possession of a PhD rather than to clearly and precisely pass on information. I am a college graduate who has been an avid reader for over half a century, why should I need to pull out a dictionary to unravel a sentence that simply says “the apartment was small and neat?” Occasionally a literary reference can be the best way to bring out shared experiences between the author and the readers but multiple references to multiple works on one page is simply egotism.

The last third of the book did start to put the story together in a historically valid way. Sort of anyway. There was still massive gaps in the information that seemed to be equal parts inability to do historical research and editorial blind spots. This is an important story. It concerns Cold War fears, the arrogance of medical researchers brought on by big grants and a God complex. Simply told the story is this, post Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was obvious that radiation was an invisible and mysterious factor soldiers in a nuclear war would have to contend with. After an exposure how could doctors triage their patients, which ones were walking dead men due to the radiation and which should the military spend valuable resources to treat? That is the question that the Department of Defense wanted answered when they funded the University of Cincinnati Medical School’s radiation experiments.

To answer that question the radiation lab selected cancer patients to be given massive doses of radiation in single exposure over their whole body. Exactly like a soldier near an atomic explosion would suffer. Then the doctors would collect and examine blood and urine samples looking for a tell tale marker they could use to determine exposure when the dosage was unknown, as on a battlefield. Other tests were often performed, after all how often do you get a patient exposed to a near lethal dose of radiation to study? Over the twelve years of the study 115 people were irradiated. They ranged in ages from 80 years old to only 9 years old. All were said to have terminal cancer but among the many types of cancer the patients were diagnosed with there were many of the solid tumor variety that it was well understood that whole body radiation was not effective against. The patients were not told this. They were simply told that they were being taken for a “treatment”. They were not told that it could be deadly. They were not told that it was a Department of Defense study. They were not told that the doctors did not expect the patients to get any benefit from the “treatment”. To be fair they were not told that there might be a benefit. Approximately 1 in 4 patients would die within 60 days of the treatment, some that were living normal, active lives up to the day of the treatment.

Over the years various members of the university’s research board would question the program, what was its goal? Was it ethical? The objections would abruptly end for reasons unknown to Stephens until the Junior Faculty Association, which Stephens was a member of, got wind of the “treatments” and investigated. Their objections were handled quietly within the university and the program was stopped and buried.

Nearly twenty years later a woman working at the hospital, transcribing records of an old research project, came across her aunts name. She was listed as a subject, something the family never knew about. Her curiosity led to a multi-year legal action against the university, the city, the doctors, and the federal government that included a historic decision that repeatedly referenced the Nuremberg Code, a code of behavior developed by the Allies after the war crimes trials of World War Two that were to offer guidance on performing medical research without committing war crimes, sometimes referred to as crimes against humanity. According the the doctors of the UC Hospital radiation experiments the only ethical standards in existence when the study began, in 1960, were written for the ethical treatment of animals.

There is a story here that needs a good historian to bring it out. Unfortunately Stephens “The Treatment” only scratches the surface.

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2014 Reading List

Father Time

Father Time marches on.

I only managed to read 22 books this year. Even considering that several of them were well over 400 pages long I am a little disappointed. I did manage to review all but the last on, which I am working on right now and should be ready to post next week.

The worst was Peter Bronson’s “Behind the Lines” where he tries to explain away the 2001 manslaughter of Timothy Thomas by an inexperienced police officer unfamiliar with the area who, against instructions, chased Thomas down a dark, narrow walkway and shot him dead as he reached for his phone. It turned out to be a story that kept repeating through the year. Just like today the reaction against the unjust killing was blamed on the victims of police violence.

On a personal level Christine Sismondo’s “America Walks into a Bar” might be the most important. That is the book that made me want to try a Lime Rickey and got me started on the path to a home bar. In the larger world Martin J. Blaser’s book “Missing Microbes” could turn out to be the book of the year. His argument that we and our bacteria evolved together, that we could have a myriad of symbiotic relationships with the bacteria that lives in and on us and that indiscriminately eliminating them can be, has been, detrimental to our health opens up vast field of investigation for medical researchers.

Here is the complete list.

1. Edsel, Robert M., and Bret Witter. The monuments men : allied heroes, Nazi thieves and the greatest treasure hunt in history. New York: Center Street / Hachette Book Group, 2010

2. Deetz, James. In small things forgotten : an archaeology of early American life. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

3. Sismondo, Christine. America walks into a bar : a spirited history of taverns and saloons, speakeasies, and grog shops. New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press, 2011.

4. Stiglitz, Joseph E. The price of inequality. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

5. Larson, Edward J. Summer for the gods : the Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. New York: BasicBooks, 2006.

6. Blaser, Martin J. Missing microbes : how the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

7. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2014.

8. Murtagh, William J. Keeping time : the history and theory of preservation in America. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley, 2006.

9. Bronson, Peter. Behind the lines : behind the lines of action, between the lines of truth, the untold stories of the Cincinnati riots. Milford. OH: Chilidog Press, 2006.

10. Shriver, Maria, and Olivia Morgan. The Shriver report : a woman’s nation pushes back from the brink : a study. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

11. Connell, Robert L. Fierce patriot : the tangled lives of William Tecumseh Sherman. New York: Random House, 2014.

12. Cronkite, Walter, Maurice Isserman, and Walter Cronkite. Cronkite’s war : his World War II letters home. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society, 2013.

13. Johnson, Jacqueline. Western College for Women. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

14. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

15. King, Quentin S. Henry Clay and the War of 1812. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

16. Bradley, David. The historic murder trial of George Crawford : Charles H. Houston, the NAACP and the case that put all-white southern juries on trial. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

17. Potter, Maximillian, and Donald Corren. Shadows in the vineyard : the true story of a plot to poison the world’s greatest wine. Solon, Ohio: Findaway World, LLC, 2014.

18. Bailey, Mark, and Edward Hemingway. Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

19. Krist, Gary. Empire of sin : a story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. New York: Crown, 2014.

20. Trudeau, Noah A. Southern storm : Sherman’s march to the sea. New York: Harper, 2008.

21. Henry, David, and Joe Henry. Furious cool : Richard Pryor and the world that made him. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.

22. Levin, Phyllis L. The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams. London New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

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Book Review: Rogue Male

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Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male

Back in the 1990s I started reading a lot of crime fiction and suspense. Inside a collection edited by Alfred Hitchcock I came across this short novel, “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household, that Hitchcock described in the introduction as the best suspense story ever written. That intrigued me, after all, who knows suspense better than Alfred Hitchcock? If he said it said it, must be so. Hitchcock was right. I read crime and suspense for another ten years and never found anything that came close to producing the claustrophobic fear of this book.

The book starts with the unnamed protagonist caught in a compromising position, he is looking at an unnamed European leader through the scope of a high powered rifle. I was sure I knew who but, after the second or third read and a few history classes, I have more than one possible target in mind. His captors believe he is an assassin and decide to dispose of him. Our protagonist manages to escape but finds himself chased by a determined team of assassins. The majority of the book is his frantic scramble to escape the team hunting him. The writing carries you along, from one chilling encounter to the next. I hate reviews that use cliches like that, but yes, I remember a cold chill running down my back again and again as the protagonist evades the men hunting him. Soon we are living like hunted animals in the English country side. I do mean “we”, the writing is so clear and compelling that you can feel the dirt rolling down the back of your shirt just as the protagonist does.

There is misdirection in the form of an unreliable narrator that caused me to doubt I knew the target. Soon I doubted everything the protagonist / narrator said. I won’t try to claim that the book is high literature but it does deserve a close reading. Unlike most 75 year old novels you won’t have trouble finding a copy of this one if you want one. It is still in print, available new from Amazon and there are many prior printings available in the used book market.

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Book Review: “Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history

"Of all the gin Joints"

“Of all the gin Joints”: stumbling through Hollywood history”

When I asked to review Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway’s book “Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history” for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program I needed a light, entertaining read. Bailey’s book is exactly that, it is a collection of stories of alcohol inspired bad behavior among Hollywood’s biggest names mixed with the background of some of their favorite “watering holes” Divided into four eras, silent cinema, the studio’s, post-war, and “modern” by which they mean 1960 to 1979 there is a lot of overlap and many names keep reappearing. It was revealing to see that a silent screen actress used the same hangover remedy they featured in the movie “Flight”, an 8-ball of cocaine. This was a fun book that is easy to read a bit at a time.

There were many illustrations, caricatures of the celebrities and drawings of the bars, restaurants, and hotels mentioned and, as the cover claims, over forty drink recipes are included. This is where I was disappointed with the book. I would have rather seen photos of the old buildings than drawings but I understand the expense in licensing and printing photos. However whoever did the layout of the drink recipe needs to take a class in technical writing. At least that is where I learned not to use a background that interferes with reading the printing. With the red and white striped background the white letters is very hard to make out when the print is small, as when there are fractions in the recipe.

It was a fun book to read although I have to agree with the authors that he silent era seemed the most fun. That era of sex and pranks gave way to generations of nasty violent drunks that were more disappointing than entertaining.

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Review: The Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Although the full title of David Bradley’s book, “The historic murder trial of George Crawford : Charles H. Houston, the NAACP and the case that put all-white southern juries on trial” is grandiose but it is accurate. The trial is historic, it involves Charles H. Houston and the NAACP, and Jim Crow restrictions on who can serve on Southern juries start to fall. I was a little concerned when I learned that Bradley is a writer for a small town newspaper but his style was pleasant surprise. He is a talented writer and his first article on the Crawford trial was back in 2002. He has had plenty of time to do research.

The trial concerns the deaths of two women of wealth women, murdered in their home in northern Virginia. Suspicion immediately falls on George Crawford, recently fired from his position as their chauffeur, and Paul Boeing, the brother of one of the woman who the town saw as “effeminate”. Given that the murder was in the old South and Crawford was black, he was the suspect the police pursued.

Luckily for him the police could not find him, as Bradley points out this was the era, and an area known for lynchings. When Crawford is finally found and arrested in Massachusetts the NAACP’s new legal strategy to challenge Jim Crow takes up his case. This is not Dred Scott or Roe v Wade but it is an important case. Several Southern states took notice and began putting African-American men into the jury pools immediately. The Scottsboro Trial in Alabama was going on at the same time as the Crawford trial and the book shows the distrust and class struggle between the “Talented Tenth’s” NAACP and the American Communist Party.

Billy Mitchell, the father of naval aviation, is a minor character in the story. He lived in the town where the murders took place and, being Billy Mitchell, felt the need to put himself into the investigation. Walter White, president of the NAACP and W. E. B. Du Bois, founder of the NAACP and editor of it’s magazine The Crisis, show up her also and the aftermath of the trial shows the fault lines in the organization and the unease with the small, slow steps their legal strategy was taking. Charles H. Houston, Crawford’s lead attorney at trial, was a law professor at Howard University. His students, including Thurgood Marshall, would bring that strategy to its high point twenty years after Crawford’s trial with Brown v Board of Education.

The persecution Houston endured after the trial was a revelation for me. Saving Crawford’s life was enough for Houston but a vocal minority of supporters were willing to put Crawford back at risk to argue against the exclusion of blacks from juries in court. They argued for this knowing that they had already won representation on juries in several Southern states and many Virginia counties directly from the efforts made on behalf of Crawford.

I enjoyed this book, it is a well written popular history that can put flesh on the bones of Depression Era history. Full disclosure I received my copy free as part of LibraryThing.com’s Early Reviewer program.

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Review: Western College for Women

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Western College for Women

Jacqueline Johnson’s book Western College for Women was a quick read. Before I start singing its praises, which I will get to, I want to disclose the facts that could bias my opinion. First, I live in Oxford Ohio the home of Western College and have a history degree from Miami University where Ms Johnson worked as the Rare Books Librarian. She is now the Western College archivist which I am sure helped her with this book. Second, she has worked with my wife on projects for the university. Now those are not my reasons for reading the book. I love local history, the past is most alive when you stand where it happened. I am interested in the history of education. In fact I have Narka Nelson’s 1954 book “The Western College for Women, 1853-1953”, which Johnson mentions, on my bookshelf but for some reason I have not yet read it. One reason could be that it stops short of what I considered the most interesting aspect of Western College’s story. Training the volunteers for Freedom Summer, another of my interests.

Western College for Women first held classes in 1853. It is hard to see even western Ohio as “the West” today but remember that ten years later the Civil War “Army of the West” consisted of soldiers from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Today Oxford is in the country, then it was in the wilderness, a college town carved out of beech groves in 1809. Johnson shows us the college as it develops and expands over the decades. I mean she literally shows us. The book has well over two hundred photographs coupled with informative captions all collected and written by Johnson. At first it surprised me that there was not more text. Johnson shows us the primary document, the photograph of the person, place, event, as it happened. This is good history.

Sometimes the picture is more persuasive than mere words. On page 34 we have a photo from 1891 of the Volunteer Band of the International Movement for Foreign Missionaries and the caption mentions “Lucy Dunlap from Thailand”. Without the photo we could assume that Lucy Dunlap was an expatriate’s daughter sent home to study. Thanks to the photo we see that regardless of the Western name we have real intercultural exchange happening here. I was in high school when Title 9 went into effect and I suffered under the impression that women’s athletics dated from then. This book showed me just how wrong I was. Another unexpected bit of history involves the stonework that is perhaps the most distinctive part of the Western campus, the stone work. Eleven bridges, an outdoor theater and the fireplace in the Western Lodge were all done by the same man’s company, African American stonemason Cephas A. Burns. As impressive as Burns stonework is even 100 years later I did not expect that a woman’s college in south west Ohio would hire an African-American contractor. Good history points out the unexpected. I found many unexpected facts in this short book.

Johnson organized the book by the terms of college presidents. The pictures show us the people and major events, as well as the changing reality of college life. Students rode around campus in horse drawn carriages, they rode bicycles to the next town six miles away, they protested for visiting privileges for their male friends. Johnson has put together an excellent selection of photographs and did the research to necessary to write informative captions. The fact that Lucy Dunlap founded the Satriwithaya School in Bangkok or that when the board of trustees approved Freedom Summer organizers use of the campus they specified it was for one time only were not found written on the back of the photograph or on the negatives envelope. Johnson had to research these facts and find a way to included them. A lot of thought and research in this book that is so well done that it looks simple. If you look closely you will even find a photo of 1962 Western graduate Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. If I were to look harder I might find Ameerah Haq, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support and a Western graduate. Maybe not. Western had to many important alumni to show them all in such a short book.

After reading Johnson’s book I am motivated to read Narka Nelson’s more detailed book but now I know that there is an updated edition that covers ten more years of Western College’s history. Now I think I need to hunt it down. This book should interest anyone who wants an introduction to the history of higher education in the United States, in particular women’s education. I am confidant that anyone who reads it will have at least one “I didn’t know that” moment. I did not learn if participating in Freedom Summer was what brought about the schools closing ten years later. That is something that won’t appear in a photograph. Only close examination of the financial records would show the truth about that.

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Review: The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War

The 36th Infantry in the Civil War

The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War

James Bryant’s history of “The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War” is an ambitious look at one of the Union’s first military units comprised mainly of self liberated slaves. As with most military history there is more attention paid to the officers, the white officers, than to the enlisted men. Better educated men are more apt to leave written evidence of their lives and the majority of Bryant’s subjects had been kept intentionally illiterate during their time as property. In spite of this complication Bryant made good use of the sources available and produced a clearer portrait of the unit than I would have thought possible.

I was a little concerned about the depth of Bryant’s understanding of the history of the era when I read his explanation of General Butler’s transition from a pro-South Democrat to a Union general volunteering to lead a “colored” unit. Mississippi did not cede between the first and third Democratic Party Conventions of 1860 as Bryant states. (pg. 26) This was the only error I found in the book, however I don’t know if that is due to Bryant’s good research or my lack of knowledge. However, that is outside the focus of this book, only the fact that Butler did change is relevant to the story of the 36th USCT.

What this book does best is demonstrate that the psychiatric concept of “self fulfilling prophesy” is wrong. The vast majority of the people around these men expected them to be timid to the point of cowardice, subservient, thieves, and rapists. Their military record proves them to be just the opposite. They did, under orders, seize tools, supplies, weapons and human property from the Unions enemies. They were often accused of crimes against white women, accused being the important word according to the written testimony of the (white) officers who served with them. Fourteen members of the unit earned Congressional Medals of Honor at the Battle of New Market, something which should dispel any preconceived notions of cowardice or timidity.

Bryant manages to explore several subjects that have been underexamined in US Civil War history, the contrast in the treatment of “Colored Troops” recruited from free Northerners and those recruited from contrabands, slaves who crossed into Union territory in acts of self liberation, the tension between white Union troops and their “colored” comrades, and the willingness of white officers to sacrifice the lives of the USCT in order to allow them to “prove themselves” in battle. Anyone interested in the details of US Civil War history will enjoy this book.

 

* Originally reviewed for LibraryThing Early Reviewers January of 2013

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