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Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers

Nov 26, 2018

The Human Body in the Age of Catastrophe

Brittleness, Integration, Science, and the Great War

University of Chicago Press 2018

purchase at The prologue to The Human Body in the Age of Catastrophe: Brittleness, Integration, Science, and the Great War (University of Chicago Press, 2018) begins by provocatively invoking a question American physiologist Walter Cannon first asked in 1926: “Why don’t we die daily?” In the erudite chapters that follow, Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers explore how practitioners and theorists working during and after World War I tried to answer that very thorny problem in light of the challenges of wound shock. This functional disorder demanded that doctors, surgeons, and physiologists account for two medical realities: first, that wound shock was a whole-body, multi-systemic response to trauma; and second, that a fairly homogenous group—namely the young, male soldier-patient—responded to wound shock in highly variable and individuals ways. Whereas the historiography of World War I and trauma has largely focused on psychopathological models, Geroulanos and Meyers illuminate how the work of Henry Head, Réné Leriche, Kurt Goldstein and others enacted a wholesale transformation of the concept of the individual, one that would define medico-physiological individuality as an integrated and indivisible body, but one constantly on “the verge of collapse.”

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