Circumcision: A History of the World's Most Controversial Surgery

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Book Data
Title Circumcision
SubtitleA History Of The World's Most Controversial Surgery
AuthorDavid Gollaher
Pages 272
First EditionMarch 20, 2000
PublisherBasic Books

Circumcision history.jpg

From the extraordinarily painful initiation rite of the ancient Egyptians, through the Hebrew purification ritual, through its use by nineteenth-century doctors as prevention for ailments including bedwetting, paralysis, and epilepsy, circumcision has had a long and varied history. Perhaps the greatest mystery, however, is its persistence over time through vastly different social contexts.Historian of medicine David Gollaher takes a comprehensive look at the practice in this lively, scholarly history. Circumcision also addresses the growing controversy over the procedure’s continuance, and those opposing routine circumcision will find support here. Gollaher concludes that “if male circumcision were confined to developing nations, it would by now have emerged as an international cause célèbre.” review

More than a million infant boys are circumcised every year in America, the highest occurrence of this procedure in the world. Why? Out of sheer cultural habit, concludes David Gollaher in his groundbreaking study, Circumcision. The tremendous momentum behind Gollaher's account is generated by one simple question: what is known about this most common of procedures? Alarmingly, precious little. Gollaher remedies that problem by tracing the historical roots of circumcision as a rite of passage into manhood in various ancient cultures before bringing the reader to 19th-century America, when circumcision rates skyrocketed through endorsements by the nascent American medical profession, which credited circumcision with exaggerated health benefits. Circumcision would eventually turn into a mark of class distinction, and the surgery would become entrenched in modern medical practices, despite scant study of its benefits, dangers, or side effects. Gollaher is to be commended for maintaining an even perspective on a practice that is sure to become increasingly controversial; he allows the research itself to fascinate and illuminate. As expected, there are many unsettling graphic descriptions in this book, but its most horrifying revelation is its most casual: the incontrovertible fact that circumcision remains the least understood--yet most widely practiced--surgery in the United States. --Sumi Hahn Almquist


. . . Berlin is the audacious, craved city of modern times, and David Clay Large the star reporter at its city desk.
– Peter
. . . Large demonstrates in these pages that he is as good a raconteur as he is a historian.
– Gordon A. Craig, Stanford University
. . . a vivid and compelling history of the city which was in many ways the fulcrum of the twentieth century.
– Niall Ferguson
. . . a vivid picture of a city . . ..Admirably broad and informative.
– Fritz Stern, Columbia University
. . . absorbing, penetrating, and-in the best sense of the word-entertaining exploration of Berlin's turbulent modern history.
– Peter Hayes, Professor of History, Northwestern University
David L. Gollaher's judicious and anatomically unflinching study seems likely to prompt considerable debate-not to mention a lot of crossed legs.
– Mirabella
In his fascinating new bookhe [Gollaher] sets out to make 'the strange familiar' but also 'the familiar strange. (The New York Times)
There are several good books on modern Berlin, but none has quite the authority and flair of Large's Berlin.
– Peter Gay
Vivid narrative history of a city like no other, related with power and style. (Kirkus Reviews)

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