What We Are Reading Today: Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery by Jonathan Lamb

Updated 18 November 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery by Jonathan Lamb

  • Lamb traces the cultural impact of scurvy during the 18th-century age of geographical and scientific discovery

Scurvy, a disease often associated with long stretches of maritime travel, generated sensations exceeding the standard of what was normal. Eyes dazzled, skin was morbidly sensitive, emotions veered between disgust and delight. In this book, Jonathan Lamb presents an intellectual history of scurvy unlike any other, probing the speechless encounter with powerful sensations to tell the story of the disease that its victims couldn’t because they found their illness too terrible and, in some cases, too exciting.

Drawing on historical accounts from scientists and voyagers as well as major literary works, Lamb traces the cultural impact of scurvy during the 18th-century age of geographical and scientific discovery. He explains the medical knowledge surrounding scurvy and the debates about its cause, prevention, and attempted cures. He vividly describes the phenomenon and experience of “scorbutic nostalgia,” in which victims imagined mirages of food, water, or home, and then wept when such pleasures proved impossible to consume or reach. 

Lamb argues that a culture of scurvy arose in the colony of Australia, which was prey to the disease in its early years, and identifies a literature of scurvy in the works of such figures as Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Francis Bacon, and Jonathan Swift.

Masterful and illuminating, Scurvy shows how the journeys of discovery in the eighteenth century not only ventured outward to the ends of the earth, but were also an inward voyage into the realms of sensation and passion.


What We Are Reading Today: Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975

Updated 09 December 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975

Author: Max Hastings

Deep inside Max Hastings’ monumental Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy sits a minute story that captures the essence of the book.
This is an absorbing and definitive modern history of the Vietnam War from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Secret War.
Hastings is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. His parents were Macdonald Hastings, a journalist and war correspondent, and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Hastings “indicts the US with passion and engaging snark but mostly reinforces old critiques,” stated Mark Atwood Lawrence in his NYT review. “Although American forces often fought effectively on the battlefield, Hastings asserts, those successes proved irrelevant because Americans failed in the more important and far more delicate task of cultivating a South Vietnamese state capable of commanding the loyalty of its own people,” added Lawrence.
Hastings was educated at Charterhouse School and University College, Oxford, which he left after a year. After leaving Oxford University, Max Hastings became a foreign correspondent, and reported from more than 60 countries and eleven wars for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard.