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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

May 19, 1991|Chris Goodrich

THE HISTORY OF YELLOW FEVER: An Essay on the Birth of Tropical Medicine by Francois Delaporte, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (MIT Press: $19.95; 181 pp.). Ah, the French. Who but a Parisian academic would begin an account of a medical discovery by discussing two paintings commemorating the event, and then conclude that the artworks are interesting "not so much for what they show as for what they hide"? Yes, the deconstructionists (author Francois Delaporte thanks Michel Foucault in the acknowledgments) have come to the history of science, and the result, as one might predict, is by turns brilliant, silly, obvious, boring and incomprehensible. Delaporte argues, in essence, that the two scientists who independently claimed to have discovered how yellow fever was propagated--American Walter Reed, who won the public-relations battle, and Cuban Carlos Finlay, who lost--have misrepresented history to serve their own ends. The author expects the reader to find this disclosure a violent shock.

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